Saturday, 21 June 2014

Sienkiewicz, Henryk "Quo Vadis"


Sienkiewicz, Henryk "Quo Vadis: A Narrative of the Time of Nero" (Quo Vadis. Powieść z czasów Nerona) - 1895 

"Where are you going?" a question asked in the New Testament (John 13:36), used in the Latin translation as the book title, it is quite empowering. It gives a sense of mystery.

This book has been on my wish list most for most of my life. Why I have never tackled it before? Well, maybe I thought it was more of a tackle. As it is, it is a surprisingly easy book to read with an astonishing story and a lot of historical background. I have read other books about the early Christians in Rome and I have always been fascinated by them. Why does someone give up their life and that of their loved ones for a new religion? What is behind those martyrs, what are their motives, their desires?

This book gives a lot of answers to those questions. It is a book about history as well as a book about religion and philosophy, about slavery, power and poverty. We can learn about how Ancient Rome was ruled, how the rich lived and how the poor. We have love and war, trust and betrayal, prayers and fights, the whole world seems to gather on these pages.

Granted, it is a large book (more than 700 pages) but well worth it. We even meet Saint Peter and Saint Paul, the former is always named as the first Pope. We see how his followers see him, love him, find strength through him. Maybe the main reason why this book is called "Quo Vadis?"

Lygia is a young Greek slave and the Roman patrician Marcus falls in love with her. At the beginning, he doesn't know she is a Christian but he tries all sorts of tricks to get her. Not much has changed there but he has different kind of tactics up his sleeve. He involves his uncle Gaius Petronius (who is one of many actual historical figures in this novel) to help him.

The plot is not the most breathtaking part of the novel, even though it is pretty good. But the writing is just as powerful, the characters are described very vividly, and so are the scenes. A very realistic description of every tiny little detail makes you believe you are there in the middle of the book with all the people.

I am not surprised the author received the Nobel Prize, he was a fantastic writer. I will try to read more of his books, this one was magnificent.

From the back cover: "Quo Vadis is a powerful historical novel about the rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire. Through a romance between a high-born Roman pagan and a Christian woman, Henryk Sienkiewicz masterfully brings to life the decadence of imperial Rome during the reign of Nero Claudius Caesar (AD 54-68), the bloodthirsty persecutor of the early Christians.
Quo Vadis has been translated into more than forty languages, as well as adapted into several movies. Jeremiah Curtin's accurate and lively English translation of the novel successfully conveys Sienkiewicz's muted portrayal of the beginnings of Christianity and his spectacular, apocalyptic vision of the Roman Empire in decline."

Henryk Sienkiewicz received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1905 "for his outstanding merits as an epic writer."

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