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Stone Upon Stone

4.41  ·  Rating details ·  772 ratings  ·  102 reviews
A masterpiece of post-war 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, plainspo
Paperback, 537 pages
Published January 2011 by Archipelago Books (first published 1984)
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Average rating 4.41  · 
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Jim Fonseca
Aug 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: polish-authors
A long, slow read, meant to be savored and it is worth it. I read this bit by bit over a few months. It mixes up the present with reflections of the past in stream-of-consciousness passages. There is little dialogue.

The main character is a Polish man who fought in the resistance against the Germans and then the Russians in WW II. He was hospitalized for a year with wagon injuries to his leg.

He’s mainly a farmer but at times supplement his income as a barber and a clerk in the town hall. We rea
Jun 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own-a-copy, 2014, reviewed

Stone upon stone is an epic saga and vast panorama of rural life and the peasant's view of the world. The main character, country bumpkin Szymek Pietruszka, a cross between a philosopher and chronicler, in a simple though not plebby way spins a story of his own life. And we, readers actually feel as if we were sitting on the threshold of his homestead and before our eyes pass a colorful parade of people and events which he had participated.

Country road, winding and full of holes hich one coul
Vit Babenco
Nov 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I would've simply called Stone Upon Stone a narrative wonder.
“Though if you ask me, eternity’s the same whether you’re eaten by worms in your grave or fishes in the sea. When the Day of Judgment comes, the folk in their graves and the ones from the sea will have to rise up just the same. And it’s a lot less trouble in the sea than when you have to build a tomb.”
The protagonist lived a long, rebellious and troubled life and now he attempts to build a tomb for himself and his kin. And in the proce
Lee Klein
Jul 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Finished it and said something like "whoa, great book." The title is perfect -- per the epigram it's from a folk song: "stone upon stone / on stone a stone / and on that stone / another stone." A perfect title because it's a simple introduction to the novel's alinear associative structure/progress across the clear-cut beginning, middle, and end of a few eras -- the narrator's pre-war youth of mostly satisfying work in the fields, fighting in the resistance during WWII, and the post-war soviet er ...more
Jul 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Michael by: Agnieszka
This fat novel, first published in 1984 and translated into English in 1999, felt to me like a masterful paean to the power of human memory to hold a lifetime, to reconstruct a dying way of rural life, and to reveal the heroic and stubborn resilience of the spirit. We start with Szymek in middle-age working on a stone tomb for his two brothers and already dead parents in a rural village in Soviet-era Poland. One thought leads to another, back and forth through time, spanning his history of rebel ...more
Nov 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
I very rarely leave a book unfinished and I had wanted to consign “Stone Upon Stone” to the heap of unreadable books after the first chapter. It took me a very long time to get to the end of the first chapter. But I felt I needed to read some more, so I read another two chapters and still I wanted to ditch it. However, I am thankful I kept on reading because it turned out to be an unusual story that touched me in unexpected ways.

I have never before read Wiesław Myśliwski. He is a Polish novelist
lark benobi
The discursive narrative style is a blend of artfulness and artlessness that disarmed me with its power. All of the harrowing, deadly, tender, and memorable events in Szymek Pietruszka’s life are revealed to the reader, with many digressions along the way. Some events are sharply told in a single paragraph. Others reveal themselves in small increments that build throughout the novel, as if some memories are too painful to tell all at once. Szymek is irreverent and explosive. He's a drunk, a lout ...more
Melanie (Mel's Bookland Adventures)
Another reviewer said that this book was like having a conversation with an elderly relative that talks about his/her youth without logical timeline, with repetitions, exxagerations and sometimes hard to follow. I agree but unlike the other reviewer, I liked it for it. There is no plot. Long chapters deal with themes of rural life and the characters, exploring a Poland that was once Russian, then Poland, then German occupied and then Poland again. At times funny, often heartbreaking, ridiculous, ...more
Jul 19, 2016 rated it liked it
Imagine sitting with a great storyteller for over two weeks. His mind is full of stories from rural Poland, from the war before and after, from his adventures as a young wag and an aging but likable man. In no time at all, one thought strand leads to the next and he jumps. He has no problem with time, either, going back many years and then only a few, up to the present and back to wherever. Chronologies are for the history books, not the storytellers!

As you might expect, though, some stories are
Dec 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: btba-2012, 1984
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
Robert Wechsler
Apr 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: polish-lit
There is something special about a work of art that tries to do something that seems impossible, and succeeds. The impossible doesn’t have to have a scope that’s huge. It doesn’t have to blow you away. It just has to be something I would bet the artist cannot do.

In the case of this novel, the impossible is a first-person narrative of the life of a Polish farmer apparently in a Polish-speaking part of the Ukraine (this isn’t made clear) that goes on for nearly 550 pages of rambling anecdotes that
Katia N
Mar 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is over 500 pages of the internal monologue of Szymek Pietruszka, the peasant from a fictional polish village. It did not sound like my cup of tea on the surface, as I am as urban as one could be. Bu it is appeared to be the most wonderful read. Szymek so far is the best character I've read about this year and likely would stay this way. The author has created absolutely unique, idiosyncratic voice which makes the narrative flow. The period covered is approximately from the 30s to the ...more
Jan 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
"Stone upon stone
On stone a stone
And on that stone
Another stone"
-from a folk song

This book was my translated novel for the month. It has sat on my shelves for almost a decade and I kept putting off reading it because it is so long. It turned out to be a mixed blessing.

First of all, it took me 10 days to read, during which I got several wonderful naps. The title comes from the folk song quoted above. Polish peasants, people who have farmed grain and raised animals for centuries upon centuries,
Jan 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Rick Slane
Feb 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
I read an English translation from the original Polish. I kept thinking of the stream of consciousness narrator as one of Tolstoy's happy serfs despite his fight against the Germans and a debilitating injury he suffers all the while concerned with building a family tomb.
Mar 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Literary Review The
Feb 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Not only is this a great, timeless novel, but it is a very funny one. It won the "Best Translated Novel" Award from Pen, and translator Bill Johnston, who teaches at Univ. of Indiana, deserves ample praise for delivering a novel that should be as well-read or studied as Faulkner. Its associative (digressive?), non-linear structure may bother those who want a traditional plot, but its vocabulary is positively plain. I couldn't find one complex word to add to my Nabokovian word 'wall'. This doesn' ...more
Dec 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the best books I have read in months. Many other readers have given precise and informative reviews of this book. I will only say that it is a brilliantly painted picture of humanity, humanity at a certain time and place, but a humanity that encompasses a life fully detailed, humility, braggadocio, fear, dreams, prayers and curses. Szymek's world of Polish peasantry evoked the parallel world of my forefathers, Jewish tavern owners who a few times even peek through the narrative. E ...more
Louise Silk
Jan 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
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
Jan 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Kinda sorta like 'True Grit' Polish style....that is instead of Whiskey there is Vodka...potatoes and peirogis...and home made bread. At times it kind of reminded me of a Fellini movie with the cast of character laughs all the time, another cries all the time, yet another never cries. ..the star of the book was a part of the resistance against the Nazi's. After being wounded he returns home (a farm) and immediately his father starts in on him. The son explains he has been out ki ...more
Feb 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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’
Marie cuatt
Apr 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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 an
Sep 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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.

May 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
A almost exclusively a monologue, filled with rural (do I dare call it peasant? :-)) common sense and wisdom. Charming and fascinating. Read and read, swallowed pages perhaps missing out on details but absorbing the spirit of the story. The editor note advertises the protagonists turbulent faith but I found myself far less interested in the story then in the characters and relationships between them. It was for me, yet another insight into the “other peoples world”. Not my environment and not my ...more
Mar 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
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.
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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

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