by Patrycja Płachecka
Ryszard Kapuściński was a Polish journalist, photographer, poet and reporter working abroad. He is known mainly for his books written on the topics concerning Africa in the 60s and 70s.
Kapuściński had an incredible way with words. Even though the topic of his books usually revolved around the prosaic, daily life of citizens of African countries, the language he used to describe it was both poetic and sublime. He depicted the cruel reality he witnessed in a truly poignant way, engaging his readers and making them completely engrossed in the world he portrayed.
The books, however, were neither strictly informative reportages, nor were they simply pieces written with the purpose of sheer entertainment in mind. What Kapuściński created was a complex world of human emotions and motivators, with political, philosophical and cultural relations involved; also complemented by descriptions of his own experience of living just the way that people surrounding him did. Yet, what he wrote were not only historical information, anecdotes, or even interlacing stories of people he met. His books can also be interpreted in a broader, metaphorical sense. In a way, describing various situations happening abroad, such as Haile Selassie’s authoritarian rule over Ethiopia in the Emperor, enabled him to criticize the socialist/communist regime in the Eastern Europe at the time. Kapuściński himself claimed that his books were more than simply travelogues; they were also focused on more universal processes and motivators that drive our actions and influence us. For instance, in the Emperor such a force is the power.
Yet, Africa, despite being a dominating topic of his reportages, was not the only thing Kapuściński wrote about. In his works, there are memoirs; poetry books; books about Poland, Soviet Union, Central Asia, or the ones concerning the topic of journalism / New Journalism; and more. As a result, books written by Ryszard Kapuściński are diverse and approachable. Therefore, if you are looking for a dedicated journalist and an incredibly skilled writer, Kapuściński should definitely be placed at the top of your to-read list.
Top 5 to start with: The Emperor, The Other, Travels with Herodotus, Imperium, Shah of Shahs.