My greatest hope when I hear a new band on the radio or read a book by an author who is new to me is that they will be one of those special artists that speak directly to your heart. It does not materialize often, perhaps once every few years but it is a pure unadulterated joy when it does happen.
So when an old friend asked me if I had ever read anything by Ryszard Kapuściński I said no, and that I had never heard of him, needless to say that I am now a convert. Incidentally, I have a lifelong interest in current affairs and my dream when I left school was be a foreign correspondent so not having heard of Kapuściński let alone read anything by him was slightly embarrassing.
So, if you have not heard of Kapuściński or read any of his books this is why I read him.
Ryszard Kapuściński was a Polish journalist, writer and poet, best known for his specific style of literary journalism. Kapuściński was a journalist at a unique period in Polish history post World War II. As Poland’s only foreign correspondent he would travel and write extensively in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa during the immediate post-colonial period in the 1960’s and 1970’s. He would eventually achieve worldwide fame and recognition and be considered as a Nobel Prize for Literature candidate, although he never won the award.
In Salman Rushdie’s words “One Kapuściński is worth more than a thousand whimpering and fantasizing scribblers. His exceptional combination of journalism and art allows us to feel so close to what Kapuściński calls the inexpressible true image of war”.
It is his expressive, dreamlike and metaphorical style of prose in his books, which have a special magic for me. His writings illustrate the personal and political colours of the revolutionary times and personalities he wrote about, from Idi Amin to Che Guevara. However, as a writer and a journalist he is not without controversy, his approach to his books as opposed to his original news reports is fluid on the subject of objectivity. He considered objectivity a matter of personal conscience on the part of the writer and not its mainstay as an individual had a responsibility to report what he saw not only at an objective level and what they experienced at a subjective, emotional level.
I read The Shadow of the Sun last year, and in October this year I read The Soccer War and followed this with Artur Domosławski’s account of his life and work, ‘Ryszard Kapuściński: A Life’ in which Artur engages on his own journey to discover who the man behind the myth was and in doing so reveal many deep insights into his life and work.
Kapuściński produced some of the best writing I have yet discovered and is a pure delight to read. In his biography Artur Domosławski describes how Kapuściński’s writing did not come easily, it was a struggle, a battle to produce what he did. In the final analysis, Isn’t that the essence of great writing, so fluid and easy for the reader, but an intense, emotional journey for the writer?