Thursday, October 13, 2016

For Announcement Day, fine translation of work by the winner of the 1905 Nobel, Henryk Sienkiewicz

As the post-announcement debate rages over the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature to the American songwriter Bob Dylan (will his Nobel Lecture have subtitles, or an English translation?), Henry Bemis Books celebrates on the of the first winners of the world’s most famous literary prize:


Henryk Sienkiewicz, Fire in the Steppe (modern translation by W.S. Kuniczak, Copernicus Society of America, stated 1st ed., 1992). ISBN 0-7818-0025-0. Third of three free-standing novels by the Polish writer (1846-1916), and published in 1888, describing the panoramic sweep of 17th century Poland’s quest for independence.

Sienkiewicz was one of the most celebrated authors of his day, renowned for historical and religious fiction as well as essays and poetry. Hie lasting fame rests on his 1896 novel, Quo Vadis, which sold over 800,000 copies in English the first year it was translated. He received seven nominations before winning the fifth Nobel Prize in Literature in 1905.

At the Nobel dinner in December, 1905, however, it was Sienkiewicz’ trilogy that formed the foundation of his renown. C.D. af Wirsen, secretary of the Swedish Academy, proclaimed,

If one surveys Sienkiewicz' achievement it appears gigantic and vast, and at every point noble and controlled. As for his epic style, it is of absolute artistic perfection. That epic style with its powerful over-all effect and the relative independence of episodes is distinguished by naive and striking metaphors. In this respect, as Geijer has remarked, Homer is the master because he perceives grandeur in simplicity as, for example, when he compares the warriors to flies that swarm around a pail of milk, or when Patroklos, who all in tears asks Achilles to let him fight against the enemies, is compared to a little girl who weeping clings to the dress of her mother and wants to be taken in her arms. A Swedish critic has noticed in Sienkiewicz some similes that have the clarity of Homeric images. Thus the retreat of an army is compared to a retreating wave that leaves mussels and shells on the beach, or the beginning of gunfire is compared to the barking of a village dog who is soon joined in chorus by all the other dogs. The examples could be multiplied.


Henry Bemis’ copy is in fine condition, with a stirring dust jacket illustration. It is one of a series of new English translations- the first in nearly a century- commissioned by the Copernicus Society in the 1990s. It’s inscribed from one friend to another in Warsaw in 2001. Hardcover, unclipped dust jacket. 9” x 5.75”; navy cloth boards with gold titling on the spine; 717 pp.  HBB price: $95 obo.


Henry Bemis Books is one man’s attempt to bring more diversity and quality to a Charlotte-Mecklenburg market of devoted readers starved for choices. Our website is at Henry Bemis Books is also happy to entertain reasonable offers on items in inventory; for pricing on this or others items, kindly private message us. Shipping is always free; local buyers are welcome to drop by and pick up their purchases at our location off Peachtree Road in Northwest Charlotte if they like.

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