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Friday, December 01, 2006

Fall Reading Challenge

This is a new challenge, separate from the TBR Challenge, suggested by Britta. Rather than finding something already in the TBR pile, this one is about trying something new.

The reading challenge for fall is to read a book written by a Nobel Prize-winning author. You can find a list of the authors on Wikipedia.

To participate, post a comment here or on your blog telling what you read, what you thought of it, and whether you'd read something from this category again.

After much deliberation, I chose:

**** With Fire and Sword by Henryk Sienkiewicz. Historical fiction.

And when I say "much deliberation," I'm not kidding. I started with the first name on the list and searched until I found something that was a)
fiction, b) not poetry, c) available in English, d) by an author I hadn't read before.

Sienkiewicz was the 6th name on the list. Then I had to decide which book. Well, the reviews were pretty unanimous that his trilogy was his best work, and With Fire and Sword is the first of the trilogy. Then I had to find which was the best translation (from Polish), and one that came in just one volume--this edition has 1135 pages, and it's hardcover. I'm getting a workout just carrying it around.

With Fire and Sword takes place in 17th Century Poland, and it chronicles the war between the Cossacks and the Polish gentry, from the perspective of the people involved. Once again, I'm reminded that this is an immeasurably more interesting way to view history than rote memorization of names and dates, and I wish I could go thump all my history teachers over the head with this big fat book.

It's mostly about Pan Yan something-or-other (the names gave me fits), a distinguished young lieutenant in the service of Prince Yeremi (or Yarema--I never did figure out the difference--I'm guessing one is the familiar form?). He's returning from a mission, when he sees a man who's been attacked and nearly killed, so he rescues him. The man turns out to be Hmyel...whatsis, whose feud with his neighbor is what starts the Cossack rebellion.

Pan Yan meets a young woman and falls in love, but her family has promised her to Bohun, of whom she's afraid. Much of the book concerns Pan Yan and his friends' attempts to rescue her and get her back together with Pan Yan, with an extremely brutal war in the way. Pan Yan is a romantic hero, a knight in shining armor, full of honor, devotion to duty, and devotion to his lady.

His friends are fascinating and entertaining characters. There's his squire, Zjendjan, who's a tricky young man, always out to make a profit, but nonetheless absolutely loyal. There's the giant Podbipyenta, who's vowed to remain celibate until he can best his ancestor's record and chop off three heads with one stroke. There's the diminutive Michal who's a master swordsman. And there's Zagloba, fat, older, prone to extreme exaggeration, a drama queen, who's a reluctant hero.

The Prince, Bohun, the rebel leader, and the government officials are more minor characters, but like the main characters, they're made real, and their motivations and doubts and emotions are all clearly drawn.

The story goes from one hair-raising situation to the next, and just when it looks as if things will be okay after all, something even worse happens. I think I read, either in the foreword, or in my research when choosing this book, that it was initially serialized in a newspaper. If it wasn't, it should have been, because that's how it reads. I could easily imagine reading one of the segments and then anxiously waiting for the next edition so I could find out what happened next.

I was quite pleasantly surprised by how entertaining and readable it was, by how engrossed I became in the story, and by the fact that I wasn't tempted to put it down and read something else, even though it took me the better part of a week to read it.

So, why only 4 stars? It's purely for the enjoyment factor. I did enjoy it, but it's not something I'll ever read again, and not even something I feel enriched by. I didn't finish it thinking "what a great book!" I'm not a student of history, or of eastern Europe, so the fact that it's written from apparently the wrong side of that conflict completely escaped me (until I read the reviews that pointed it out, of course).

I'm glad I read it, and I'll remember the characters, but I doubt I'll look for the other two books in the trilogy, or by Sienkiewicz's other works.


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This is a good idea for a challenge, but I am completely failing the two challenges that I am already in this month!
Hi, I'm here from Carmen's Christmas Open House. I love to read so I'm going to check out the list of nobel prize winning books. My "present" per Carmen's instructions, is a link where you can sign up to get book excerpts emailed to you. You can then decide if you'd like to read the whole book...Cheers! http://www.supportlibrary.com/su/su.cfm?x=190096
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