Ryszard Kapuściński: A Life
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
Controversial biography of the twentieth-century master of literary reportage
Definitive biography of one of the most significant journalists of the twentieth century.
Reporting from such varied locations as postcolonial Africa, revolutionary Iran, the military dictatorships of Latin America and Soviet Russia, the Polish journalist and writer Ryszard Kapuściński was one of the most influential eyewitness journalists of the twentieth century. During the Cold War, he was a dauntless investigator as well as a towering literary talent, and books such as The Emperor and Travels with Herodotus founded the new genre of ‘literary reportage’. It was an achievement that brought him global renown, not to mention the uninvited attentions of the CIA.
In this definitive biography, Artur Domosławski shines a new light on the personal relationships of this intensely charismatic, deeply private man, examining the intractable issue at the heart of Kapuściński's life and work: the relationship and tension between journalism and literature.
In researching this book, Domosławski, himself an award-winning foreign correspondent, enjoyed unprecedented access to Kapuściński's private papers. The result traces his mentor’s footsteps through Africa and Latin America, delves into files and archives that Kapuściński himself examined, and records conversations with the people that he talked to in the course of his own investigations. Ryszard Kapuściński is a meticulous, riveting portrait of a complex man of intense curiosity living at the heart of dangerous times.
from the review in Guardian
"Kapuściński" has long been one of Poland's few internationally recognised names, comparable to "Miłosz" or "Polanski". His vivid literary reporting of the uses and misuses of power, in the books The Emperor, The Soccer War and Shah of Shahs, was widely read in the 1980s and beyond, partly because of the author's unique position (a star reporter emerging from the darkness of communist Poland, then in the midst of martial law after a failed workers revolt) but mainly for its unusual style – personal, meticulous, literary, digressive. His wasn't the typical way of writing journalism and, similarly, Artur Domosławski's book is not a conventional biography. Both the author and his "hero", friend and mentor stand out from what was acceptable during the cold war, and today.
The book caused much controversy when it was published in Poland two years ago (with the title Kapuściński – Non-Fiction). For foreign commentators, the main interest was in discovering how its subject had embroidered the truth in service to style or politics – the fabulations involved his meetings with Che Guevara, Patrice Lumumba, Idi Amin and Salvador Allende. (The Guardian ran numerous pieces in his defence, including by Neal Ascherson and Timothy Garton Ash.) In Poland, the issues were different. Kapuściński's widow tried to stop the book's publication because of its unembellished descriptions of the writer's private life (in particular, his extramarital affairs). But more important than these revelations was Domosławskii's confirmation of the reporter's close connection with various aspects of the communist order, including the intelligence services; his belief in socialist ideology; and his uneasy adaptation to post-1989 realities. In engaging with all this, Domosławski has produced a rare and subtle portrait of the People's Republic of Poland.
decision-makers on the Central Committee, who thought of him as their representative. He disarmed potential critics by his friendliness, his personal charm, and his timid smile. He was capable of offering help – not just the professional kind but also ordinary human assistance. Many people boasted of knowing Kapuściński, and after a single conversation with him plenty of them thought of him as an old friend. How could one write anything critical about a man like that? It was a conscious
quite well with what I have managed to establish about the son’s relationship with his father. 5 Inspired by Poetry, Storming Heaven Although this photograph is undated, it was certainly taken no earlier than September 1948 and no later than the spring of 1950, outside the Polytechnic building in central Warsaw. It shows four friends from the Staszic High School: the one with the biggest shock of hair is Andrzej Czcibor-Piotrowski, and the one on the right, standing up straight
here is the Soviet Party admitting to murder, to the destruction of its political opponents, to fabricated trials. Knowledge of similar methods used by the authorities in People’s Poland has already reached certain segments of public opinion: almost two years earlier, Józef Światło, deputy director of Department X at the Ministry of Public Security, defected to the West and exposed crimes committed by the Polish apparatus of repression (his department was involved in eradicating ideological
ticket in his pocket. In a way, from the very start, beginning with his first journey to India, he works towards being an ‘interpreter of cultures’ – a reporter who describes other countries and cultures with respect and without the taint of Western condescension – though of course he has no idea that in thirty years’ time he will be world-famous and, from those heights, teaching that the role of a journalist is to explain faraway cultures to the reader. Is he really so mature at just
profession he was a psychiatrist. In protest against the brutality of the French in Algeria, where he was head of a hospital psychiatric ward, he resigned from his job. He joined the Algerian anti-colonial guerrilla movement, the FLN. He died prematurely of leukaemia, but in the last year of his life, 1961, he wrote a book that guaranteed him posthumous fame – The Wretched of the Earth. With Nowak’s help, Kapuściński laboriously wades through the original text – they both have rather a poor