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Showing 1-5 of 5 reviews(2 star). Show all reviews
on June 8, 2012
The format of the book itself is wrong ( to me). Instead of being a biography of the Emperor, it is a collection of accounts of his former employees; stake-holders of his (mis)rule. The very men who implemented his bizarre orders with promptness and enthusiasm. So the good writer doctored the eye-witness accounts with an ironical (satirical) air. It ultimately fails to lift the narrative. In fact, stalls the narrative with sameness. There is no single individual voice in the narrative.

I am not giving it 1 star because it does give you lot of information, but the style is dull and painfully so. The subject matter is rich, though...

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on April 8, 2005
For a writer who is a trenchant critic of inaccuracy in news reporting this is a rather dysmal work as the reliability of his reportage is questionable. First off his informants here are mainly former Ethiopian court servants toiling in anonymity, indistinguishable and faceless like characters in one of those West-about-Africa movies. Only one of those who assisted him is given a full name because, Kapuœciñski assures as, he is dead.

The book's entire strength derives mostly from the transcribed speech of these unnamed witnesses, their banters, hyperboles and turn of phrase. The cardinal sin that Kapuœciñski commits is that he invented many of his informants. Many of the people who actually had the titles in the palace denied ever having said what Kapuœciñski ascribes to them! It is only too convinient that the absence of proper names for the informants safety shrouded the whole issue of factuality.

The second glaring error, though effective in evoking irony and subtle narrative is his invented use of the courtly references to Sellasie: His Venerable Majesty, Benevolent Majesty, Sublime Majesty, His Charitable Majesty, Most Virtuous Highness, Exalted Majesty, to name a few; these honorifics correspond to no known expressions in the Amharic language. In actual fact speech employed at the court was strictly limited to one or two names for the king of kings. Some of the titles, the dog pee cleaner for instance are invented, perhaps for dramatic impact. Kapuœciñski does not make any of this known in the book.

There are many other factual errors that are sloppy at best. For instance, Kapuœciñski asserts that Haile Selassie did not read books! Everything had to be relayed to him by word of mouth. Dear oh dear me! Haile Selassie's reading habits are historically documented by writers and specifically by one Hans Lockot, in his memoir, The Mission. Lockot was the head of research at the National Library of Ethiopia during the Emperor's reign. Also the huge library Haile Selassie kept attest to his skills in Amharic and French. Add to this his written office records and the recorded speeches he made in English, Kapuœciñski appears foolish for labouring this point rather too long.

These errors make the book feeble. However Kapuœciñski could have corrected them by revealing the names of his informants in subsequent editions (after all it is thirty years gone now and besides many of the so-called informants have officially served as witnesses in the Dergue officials' trials). He could also make a clear statement in the introduction that the book should be taken as an allegorical tale of autocratic regimes based on actual events.

On a positive note the book's technical achievement is in its brilliant device, of whispers, old manner of speech, operatic hyperbole of cloak and dagger politics and the pervasive pompous tone of imperial court which gave a continuous vivid picture of sustained subversion and a sketchy account of the incipient revolution. Shame that such a quality work is overshadowed by Kapuœciñski reluctance to drop his claim of factual reportage.
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on May 30, 2012
This profile of Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia is fascinating, questionable, riveting, interesting, challenging, and readable. I've added it to my reference shelf along with other books on the subject.
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on May 20, 2013
this book was a monotone in print. I did not know the characters well or learned much about the culture.
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on August 29, 2001
This book was writen in an engrossing and facinating style. However, the level of blatant exageration and even falsehood (the author would have us believe that the ministers of the Ethiopian Empire were jumping out from behind trees to talk to the monarch) is a waste of a great opportunity to document one of the more remarkable reigns of the 20th century. The fact that most of those people that Mr. Kapuscinski claims contributed to his book are deeply offended by it should be enough of a commentary on this work.
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