A famous Polish communist foreign correspondent? It sounds like a contradiction in terms, but actually Ryszard Kapuściński did achieve international fame towards the end of the Cold War, after a highly successful career covering the Third World for leading media in the People’s Republic of Poland from the 1950s. Africa and, later, Latin America were his specialties; he was an enthusiast for decolonising liberation movements and an admirer of Che Guevara, Patrice Lumumba, and the French-Algerian theorist Frantz Fanon. His books The Emperor (1978),on Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, and The Shah of Shahs (1982), on Iran’s Islamic Revolution, were translated and published in many languages in the 1980s. Susan Sontag, Salman Rushdie, and John Updike were among those who praised them and welcomed Kapuściński to the international intellectual jet set. In the New York Review of Books, Adam Hochschild hailed him as a master of ‘magic journalism’ (an allusion to the ‘magic realism’ of Jorge Luis Borges and other Latin American writers). Newsweek liked his ‘mordant humor … rather as if Kafka had written “The Castle” from inside the keep’. Interpreting The Emperor as an ‘allegory of totalitarian governments today’, its reviewer concluded that ‘almost certainly [Kapuściński’s] Haile Selassie is a stand-in for Big Brother, the ruler who brings his country to a condition of near perfect stasis …’
Inside the keep
The Humphrey Bogart of foreign correspondents
Ryszard Kapuściński: A Life
by Artur Domosławski, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
Verso (Palgrave Macmillan), $49.95 hb, 464 pp, 9781844678587
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Sheila Fitzpatrick is the author of three memoirs, My Father’s Daughter, A Spy in the Archives, and, most recently, Mishka’s War: A European Odyssey of the 1940s (2017). On Stalin’s Team: the Years of Living Dangerously in Soviet Politics, was published in 2015. She is a Professor at the University of Sydney.
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