Stone Upon Stone
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Stone Upon Stone

4.34 of 5 stars 4.34  ·  rating details  ·  246 ratings  ·  42 reviews
A masterpiece of postwar Polish literature, Stone Upon Stone is Wiesław Myśliwski's grand epic in The rural tradition — a profound and irreverent stream of memory cutting through the rich and varied terrain of one man’s connection to the land, to his family and community, to women, to tradition, to God, to death, and to what it means to be alive. Wise and impetuous, plains...more
Paperback, 534 pages
Published December 30th 2010 by Archipelago (first published 1984)
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It took me a while to figure out why this book took me so dang long to read - the characters often will get into a monologue that will go on for 4 to 5 pages - in a single paragraph. There's not much white space in this book. Brace yourself for this, as it is so worth reading.

About the time you think the main character is a total schmuck, he does something so touching or noble it makes your heart ache. At times I read excerpts out loud to my spouse, and I felt that I was singing a song; somethi...more
I should start this review by saying it is completely inadequate. This fine book is a wealth of quiet wisdom that in its simple delivery reminded me of three other favorite books: Gilead, So Long, See You Tomorrow, and Stoner. Here, as in those three, we have wide-reaching reflection about a life. Here our narrator is Szymek Pietruszka, who, through a back-and-forth style, attempts to add up the pieces of his life as a farmer in rural Poland during the middle half of the twentieth century.

When S...more
Mysliwski has created a masterpiece. And Johnston's translation makes this great work accessible to all English readers. Farmer Szymek Pietruszka muses on his life and we are allowed to enter into this fascinating, complex man's views, tall-tales, tragedies, and wild nights at dances. It's cleverly written, and by the end of the long (534 pages) novel the reader longs to spend more time with the fascinating narrator.
I'm from Polish agrarian ancestry, and I wish to thank Mr. Mysliwski for giving...more
Paul Brannan
This is the Polish Zorba. A rambling, epic of a book charting the life of a hard-drinking, womanizing, beast of a man who lives life on his own terms, no matter the consequences.

Through the eyes of Szymek Pietruszka, a peasant with scant education, little money and even fewer prospects, we are shown a slice of rural life before, during and after the Second World War.

The transition is captured in minute detail and delivered in a series of soliloquies that act as metaphors for the change in Poles’...more
Louise Silk
This is a fascinating book. One man painting an epic tale in a kind of stream of consciousness that is at once engaging and dull.

There's very little plot. Instead we meander with him through stories of Polish peasant life around WWII. There is the land, the cemetery, the community, the church and the family. This has all of the ingredients that proves that any life lived is unique and worthy no matter the suffering.

The translation is excellent. The language flows so smoothly that I felt like I...more
Mysliwski builds dual portraits of the protagonist Szymek Pietruszka and his village just as Szymek is building the tomb for himself and his brothers, a bit at a time as materials come his way. Time loops around. We get a bit of an introduction to someone with a comment that foreshadows their eventual relationship with Szymek, or a casual aside about an event or an outcome, told in the course of a different story. Eventually the mason comes back and builds up that wall, filling in but maybe not...more
Having a tomb built. It's easy enough to say. But if you've never done it, you have no idea how much one of those things costs. It's almost as much as a house. Though they say a tomb is a house as well, just for the next life. Whether it's for eternity or not, a person needs a corner to call their own.

Symek Pietruszka has returned to his home village in late 20th century Poland, after a two year hospital stay that has left him crippled but unbowed. He is in the twilight of his remarkable yet lar...more
Marie cuatt
Telling his story,Szymek,an ordinary man, a Polish peasant takes us through his life, pre-World War II, during and afterward. The author characters are rich in the ways a whole people who have learned to survive a difficult life in a land that is continually at the mercy of stronger neighboring countries or nature.

The depth, the brutality, the simplicity and the beauty of the everyday is so very beautifully described by the author.
To have a piece of land, to grow enough food to maintain life and...more
Sommige boeken zijn simpelweg te goed. Dan schieten complimenten zoals 'prachtige stijl', 'originele en buitengewoon passende metaforen', 'schitterend meanderende en bovenal uitermate boeiende verhalen' domweg tekort. En dat is zeker het geval als al dat fraais door de schrijver niet wordt gebruikt om aan te tonen hoe goed hij kan schrijven of hoe fantasierijk hij is, maar uitsluitend ten dienste van het verhaal: "En de maan was als een koeienuier, die als je maar aan haar spenen had getrokken,...more
Literary Review The
By Stephanie Steiker

For The Literary Review
Volume 54 "Emo, Meet Hole"

Only when I was living in Krakow about ten years ago and saw a production of
Beckett’s “I’ll Go On” in London did I suddenly see Ireland and Poland as doubles—
small countries with beleaguered pasts, a history of failed uprisings, proclivities for
Catholicism and drink, and a preternatural talent for dark absurdist humor, gift
of the gab, and, whether despite or because of all the aforementioned, damn great
But as mu...more
A true saga and probably masterpiece of rural Poland farmer describing himself, his farm, family, village, and country coming into the modern world (no so long ago). He still lives on the farm, but his 2 bothers have moved to the city for good jobs, indoor plumbing, heat, that kind of thing, his parents are dead, his town is dysfunctional and drunk and poor and generally either whiney, vindictive or both. He is a bachelor, a horndog, and perpetually lonely, thinking, and likes it that way, sorta...more
Over the expanse of 500+ pages, Szymek Pietruszka, a Polish peasant, recalls his hardscrabble life, that of his family, and his village, from his childhood (circa 1920), through the War, and into the Communist Era (ending circa 1970s). Told in the first person, free-associating one incident after another, with no formal plot, some "paragraphs" extending over pages. The narrative will go, often within a sentence or phrase, from an incident that evokes a belly-laugh to one of hair-raising horror.

Starting with the building of a family tomb, Szymeck Pietstruszka, a Polish farmer shares an unending stream of stories of his childhood, his family, his varied career as a barber, a soldier, a wedding official and being a farmer. That he loves life, tries to do the right thing most of the time, and has a healthy fear of God and is at times a smart ass, is clear, and one cannot but continue to cheer him on.

His reminisces of the dances he attends, the drunken fights, his lovers and only love and...more
Jakub Nowak
Myśliwski to najlepszy współczesny polski prozaik. I tu to potwierdza. Ciężko właściwie mi to ująć w słowa. Zwłaszcza, że Myśliwski robi to tak dobrze. Potrafi pisać o sprawach ważnych i o sprawach drobnych w taki sposób, że jego słowa wnikają w czytelnika. Czasem wnikają delikatnie i płynnie, a czasem mogę czynić spustoszenie niczym szrapnel. Szymek to świetny bohater, choć do bohaterstwa mu daleko. Pełen sprzeczności, porywczy, na swój sposób i mądry. W rzeczywistości pewnie nie zbliżyłbym się...more
Like no other book--a Polish peasant tells his story from childhood before World War II to about 1970, and it is truly like sitting down to listen to him as one story brings another to mind. He is at once reprehensible, funny, touching, and inspired.
Lex Bijlsma
Maarten 't Hart in het kwadraat, en dan in Polen. Ik wou dat ik een euro had voor elke alinea die begint met de woorden "Nou, en toen".
Jamie Ross
Szymek likes his women and he likes his booze, but he loves the land and the power of words to weave stories—a gift he employs masterfully. Destined to become a classic if only it will garner the attention it deserves.
This is rambling, fictional memoir that goes back and forth in time from before WW II to the sixties in Poland. It is a long read at 534 pages, but I think it is worth the time. What I liked: the rural life descriptions of farming, socializing, and keeping a household; the philosophical monologues that crop up throughout, and illustration of how painful modernity can be to traditional cultures. I like reading translated works, because they are more unpredictable than works in English and often b...more
To say this book is a slow start is putting it mildly. I started this book in Nov, read it off and on (mostly off), renewed it 3 times, returned it, then checked out it again in March, read it off and on again, and finally finished it after 2 renewals.

It's written in a train of thought style where the narrator starts off on one story/memory then veers around tangentially as one thing leads to another in his memory before he ends up where he started finishing the original story. The stories run o...more
Aug 09, 2011 Carol added it
This is a raw look at lives that were lived raw, from cutting grass by hand with a scythe to getting drunk and fighting as a hobby.
And oh man, can the characters in this book talk. One character can go on for four or more pages in one long run on thought mixed with lecture and philosophizing. I don't know if this is a trait of Polish farmers in the 1930's and '40's or if it's the author's style, maybe both. I'd sometimes lose track of who was talking. There's a lot of telling people what to do d...more
Will E
It's tough. Parts of it are so good and other parts are soooo boring - sometimes it just feels like it goes on and on (and at 530 odd pages, it really does.) I feel like it could've been a good hundred pages shorter. The narrator at least is a real character; this book would have been interminable otherwise.

There's very little plot to speak of. It's more of a life collage. So if you like meandering almost tangentially related anecdotes about peasant (Polish) farming life, than this book is for...more
4 1/2
What a great find, winner of the Best Translated Book prize some years ago. The translation is outstanding but it's hard to think anything could stifle the brio with which this book is written; more than 500 pages of rural Polish life mid-century, not a lot of action, mostly monologues from the roguish narrator. But I never found the book dull, rather compulsive, amusing, moving, etc. It pays to look over prize lists as I would never otherwise have found this in a million years. Highly reco...more
Great story. Finished reading it yesterday, and still cannot stop thinking of it.
James Klagge
Great prose style--very reminiscent of Hrabal. (In fact, the next published translation of a Hrabal book is being released in 2014 by this same publisher.) But--spoiler alert--to me the main drawback of the book is that some engaging story lines were never resolved. For a 500+ page book, this is disappointing. I guess I can see that the slice-of-life approach of the book does not promise an over-all arc to the story, but a reader inevitably(?) hopes for that. Still, the richness of the prose and...more
This was an interesting read. There were times that I wanted to pitch it across the room, as it has no discernible "plot", and the main character was something of a jerk most of the time. The author writes beautifully, though, and there were passages that I kept going back to re-read over and over. Definitely worth reading.
A highly unusual book, told in a sort of stream-of-consciousness style, with some monologues going on for pages. It concerns the lives of people in a farming town in Poland post WW II. The protagonist was in the underground, but these are Christians, not Jews, so it's a side to Poland we don't usually see. Very well written.
Overwhelming in many places in the way his choice of detail adds to the nature of his description of suffering. Another translator who is owed a great debt, not just for the translation, but for the insistence that this be the book to present to an English speaking public.
Roberta (Bobbie)
A peasant's stream of consciousness set in Poland before, during and after WWII. It's a long read but rewarding in that it has everything - humor, pathos, questions of life and death, and realistic depictions of what it means to be human. The tie to the land is overwhelming.
I tried my best to get into this book. I just couldn't. But it is just not my cup of tea, but I felt that it deserved at least two stars because in my opinion no book should ever be given no stars as it is one persons dreams spilled on to paper:)
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Wiesław Myśliwski is a Polish novelist. In his novels and plays Myśliwski concentrates on life in the Polish countryside. He is twice the winner of the Nike Award (Polish equivalent of the Booker Prize) for Widnokrąg (1996) and Traktat o łuskaniu fasoli (2006).

His first novel translated into English was The Palace, translated by Ursula Phillips. His novel Stone Upon Stone (Kamień na kamieniu), won...more
More about Wiesław Myśliwski...
Traktat o łuskaniu fasoli Widnokrąg Ostatnie rozdanie Nagi sad The Palace

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“She wasn't planning on being a saint, right? Why would she? She'd get old and then regret it. What pleasure was there in being a saint? All you'd do is be in a picture on the church wall, or they'd hand you out during the priest's Christmastime visit or sell you at church fairs, or you'd have your name in the calendar. But you have to be a big-time saint for that. You'd have to kick another saint off, because there's already four or five of them for every day. Even the most saintly ones are going to get squeezed out soon. It's not worth the effort. On top of everything else, you never know if it's only down here you're considered a saint, but afterwards you're actually going to go roast in hell. How can we know what happens afterwards?” 1 likes
“Słowa same poprowadzą. Słowa wszystko na wierzch wywleką. Słowa i z najgłębszej głębi wydrą, co gdzieś boli i skowycze. Słowa krwi upuszczą i od razu lżej się robi.” 1 likes
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