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The Emperor: Downfall of an Autocrat Paperback – March 13, 1989
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His composite portrait of Selassie's crumbling imperium is an astonishing, wildly funny creation, beginning with the very first interview. "It was a small dog," recalls an anonymous functionary, "a Japanese breed. His name was Lulu. He was allowed to sleep in the Emperor's great bed. During various ceremonies, he would run away from the Emperor's lap and pee on dignitaries' shoes. The august gentlemen were not allowed to flinch or make the slightest gesture when they felt their feet getting wet. I had to walk among the dignitaries and wipe the urine from their shoes with a satin cloth. This was my job for ten years." (Well, it's a living.)
Elsewhere, the interviewees venture into tragic or grotesque or downright unbelievable terrain. Kapuscinski has shaped their testimonies into an eloquent whole, and while he never alludes to the totalitarian regime that ruled his native Poland during the same period, the analogy is impossible to ignore.
"Kapuscinski transcends the limitations of journalism and writes with the narrative power of a Conrad or Kipling or Orwell."
"A Stunning exhibit; the interviewed subjects. . .enunciate their memories of the days of Haile Selassie with a magical elegance that. . .achieves poetry and aphorism."
—John Updike, The New Yorker
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The book is structured into three chapters, The Throne, It's Coming, It's Coming, and The Collapse. Imperial Palace inhabitants relate stories that describe the feelings and attitudes of those closest to the Emperor. Kapuscinski gives you a sense of what it was like to be in the palace in times of great affluence and abundance. Just when you thought it could not get any better, the feeling of revolution sets in. He describes how the people began to tire of the monarchy, loose respect for power, and grow increasingly hungry. It was captivating to read how the dignitaries tried to hold on to their imperious way of life, while the revolution was taking place outside the palace gates.
This book takes you inside the palace during crucial times of Haile Selassie's reign. You get a sense of what the people were thinking, but did anyone ever know what Haile Selassie was actually thinking?
In "The Emperor," Kapuscinski details the rise and fall of Ethiopian King Haile Selassie who, for nearly his entire reign, was regarded as a god on earth by his people. In stark prose and devastating imagery, Kapuscinski lays out the excesses of the Selassie regime - excesses that ultimately led to Selassie being overthrown. In one particularly moving passage, Kapuscinski describes how leftover food from a regal banquet is thrown down from a window in the King's mansion to starving townspeople nearby. In that passage, Kapuscinski lays out the line between the lavishness in which Selassie basked and the squalor in which most of his subjects existed.
Arguably, the single greatest aspect of Kapuscinski as a journalist is his healthy respect for -- and knowledge of when to provide - the history of the place he's covering. In "The Emperor," Kapuscinski provides sufficient background on the Ethiopian conception of rulers as deities, as well as good detail about the wholesale slaughter of Ethiopians during the war with Italy in 1935. But he doesn't overdo it with the history, and that's what makes Kapuscinski's writing so good. As his later books, such as "Imperium," about the fall of the Soviet Union, show, Kapuscinski is a much better reporter than he is a historian. When he is writing about wars, revolts, uprisings, or other events he is witnessing firsthand, Kapuscinski is at his best.
Of all the works Kapuscinski produced during his years with the Warsaw News Agency, "The Emperor" is probably the best. As with "Another Day of Life," Kapuscinski's book about the Angolan Civil War, "The Emperor" lays bare a tyrannical political regime, and provides insights into why it collapsed.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A good over-look to understand Ethiopia's politics, either before or after you go.Published 3 months ago by Laurie Dalton
A little confusing the way chapters are laid out with initials. Most of the book is very well done and a good short read with not a lot of insignificant writing to distract the... Read morePublished 4 months ago by Rick L.
Great book about the downfall of Selassie's autocratic regime in Ethiopia on 1974. One can easily find parallels with the way other dictatorships work and try to sustain... Read morePublished 6 months ago by Álvaro
Well written in a detached manner. Sometimes a bit confusing, however, interesting and one gets a clear picture of HAILE SELASSIE. Read morePublished 11 months ago by Janet Leifer
Extremely interesting book of anecdotes by palace insiders that clearly loved Emperor Selassie. Spanning the time from the 1930's to his death, the book is broken up into... Read morePublished 11 months ago by Glenn D. Robinson