January 24, 2007


Ryszard Kapuscinski (Daily Telegraph, 25/01/2007)

Ryszard Kapuscinski, who died on Tuesday aged 74, was Poland's most renowned foreign correspondent and a witness to much of the turbulent birth of the Third World; he later translated his experiences into a series of books which also brought him acclaim in the West.

In 1962 Kapuscinski was appointed the Polish Press Agency's sole correspondent for the Third World, with responsibility for more than 50 countries. By the time the Polish government stripped him of his press credentials in 1981, for his involvement with the Solidarity movement, he had covered 27 revolutions and coups.

Kapuscinski's hallmark was his determination to venture into what he called "the bush". There he met and befriended some of the prime movers of independence, including Che Guevara in Bolivia and Patrice Lumumba in the Congo. "Empathy," he said later, "is perhaps the most important quality for a foreign correspondent. If you have it, other deficiencies are forgivable; if you don't, nothing much can help." This understanding, combined with reckless daring, often enabled Kapuscinski to outstrip his better-resourced Western colleagues. [...]

From 1962 Kapuscinski began writing books, convinced that his necessarily brief reports could not adequately convey the true nature and resonance of the events he witnessed. The first to be translated into English was The Emperor, a portrait of the final years of the reign of Haile Selassie. Ostensibly told through interviews with former courtiers, the uniform tone of irony and lapidary style show it to be a work as much of fiction as fact.

This pursuit of literary rather than literal truth disturbed some critics. Others praised it as black comedy, with the corrupt and paranoid autocrat an allegory of the Communist regime. It was adapted for the stage by Jonathan Miller and Michael Hastings.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 24, 2007 11:20 PM

How dare Kapuscinski lie about Haile Selassie. He had no proof of his allegations. Fie I say.

Posted by: Crazy Jack Whatshisname from the Thread Below at January 25, 2007 12:03 AM

Needless to say, Robert Fisk has loads of empathy.....

Posted by: Barry Meislin at January 25, 2007 4:33 AM

Any friend of Che Guevara and Patrice Lamumba was no friend of mine.

Posted by: Lou Gots at January 25, 2007 12:40 PM