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The Shadow of the Sun Paperback – April 9, 2002

4.6 out of 5 stars 107 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

When Africa makes international news, it is usually because war has broken out or some bizarre natural disaster has taken a large number of lives. Westerners are appallingly ignorant of Africa otherwise, a condition that the great Polish journalist and writer Ryszard Kapuœciñski helps remedy with this book based on observations gathered over more than four decades.

Kapuœciñski first went to Africa in 1957, a time pregnant with possibilities as one country after another declared independence from the European colonial powers. Those powers, he writes, had "crammed the approximately ten thousand kingdoms, federations, and stateless but independent tribal associations that existed on this continent in the middle of the nineteenth century within the borders of barely forty colonies." When independence came, old interethnic rivalries, long suppressed, bubbled up to the surface, and the continent was consumed in little wars of obscure origin, from caste-based massacres in Rwanda and ideological conflicts in Ethiopia to hit-and-run skirmishes among Tuaregs and Bantus on the edge of the Sahara. With independence, too, came the warlords, whose power across the continent derives from the control of food, water, and other life-and-death resources, and whose struggles among one another fuel the continent's seemingly endless civil wars. When the warlords "decide that everything worthy of plunder has been extracted," Kapuœciñski writes, wearily, they call a peace conference and are rewarded with credits and loans from the First World, which makes them richer and more powerful than ever, "because you can get significantly more from the World Bank than from your own starving kinsmen."

Constantly surprising and eye-opening, Kapuœciñski's book teaches us much about contemporary events and recent history in Africa. It is also further evidence for why he is considered to be one of the best journalists at work today. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Colorful writing and a deep intelligence highlight these essays' graceful exploration of postcolonial Africa. A Polish journalist who has written about the continent for more than three decades, Kapuscinski provides glimpses into African life far beyond what has been covered in headlines or in most previous books on the subject. The dispatches focus on the awkward relationship between Europe and Africa. Kapuscinski, whose books have been translated into 19 languages (they include The Emperor and The Soccer War), makes this clear through his own personal struggle with malaria soon after he first arrived on the continent. This emphasis also comes through in his dispatches on African nations such as Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania and Rwanda, which detail how the giddy optimism of the immediate postcolonial era disintegrated into corruption, poverty and conflict. But even as he describes a familiar story, his keen observations make it fresh. Writing about the provincialism of Rwanda, he says, "A trip round the world is a journey from backwater to backwater, each of which considers itself... a shining star." But political observations are just one of the strengths of this book. Kapuscinski's seemingly effortless writing style makes daily life come alive whether he's covering an Arab vendor making coffee or the efforts made at night by lizards to catch their mosquito prey. (The lizards' "eyes are capable of 180-degree rotation within their sockets, like the telescopes of astronomers....") Ultimately, this book is a personal and political travelogue of one man's rocky love affair with a continent of nations. Those looking for an engaging, literary introduction to Africa or even for some additional knowledge should look no further. (Apr.) Forecast: Kapuscinski is a very popular writer in Europe but has never broken out here. With a cluster of books on Africa coming out this season, this will get some media attention and may sell better than his previous books.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Vintage International
  • Paperback: 325 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (April 9, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679779078
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679779070
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (107 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #146,228 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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"Oh, no," you may be thinking, "another 'I Found Africa...' book" by a white journalist who's poked around a bit, extruded the steamy and the exotic, romanticized this, excoriated that, along the way raised a few primoridial terrors to jolt his well-meaning liberal readers, and all in all, told a few ripping yarns.
This man is different, beginning with his more than forty year relationship with the African continent. Great writers like Kapucinski--and he IS a very great writer, assisted by a great translator, Klara Glowczewska--teach us how to see, how to find the right context, how to set out the proper perspective. Most of those who read this book will be Westerners in search of a window. As an introduction, as an intimation of the myriads of Africas--because, as Kapucinski freely acknowledges, it's unfair, and somewhat insulting, to speak simply of "Africa"--and, yes, as an interpretation for Western minds, readers could do no better than The Shadow of the Sun.
For all his his vivid prose and artistic control of story elements, Kapucinski is a scholarly observer, a man who sees through the deep ice, seemingly an anthropologist refitted as a journalist--his eye is uncanny, his descriptive powers precise and powerful, and his range of experiences and depth of understanding makes this a uniquely valuable tutorial. He writes with clarity and fresh insight on familiar topics like Amin, Sudan, and the Rwanda genocide--his "lecture" on the events of 1994 is one of the book's many highpoints--but also on the sensations, struggles, and states of being that accompany the simple act of living in so challenging an array of environments as Africa's geography provides.
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Format: Hardcover
More than just a docier or biographical narrative, "Shadow of the Sun" is a series of impressions rendered by a writer of exceptional talent, considerable experience, and profound vision. The vignettes capture episodes from the author's experiences on the great continent over a span of more than thirty years. His goal is not to provide a primer in contemporary African history, or to sermonize about the region's poverty, famine, violence, or painful political upheavals. As other's have mentioned, there are other books more suited to these pursuits. His goal is to convey moments of elation, terror, awe, and desperation experienced over the course of a long and distinguished career as a journalist.
Ryszard Kapuscinski is a not an historian, a political scientist, or a sociologist - he is a teller of tales, and a master of language. These stories move, astound, touch, and disturb the reader. The essays expose the highest, lowest, and most absurd types of human behavior, setting all against the limitless and impassive backdrop of the African continent.
The essays in "The Soccer War" and "Imperium" might overall be more unified and cohesive, but in the world of contemporary literature, it doesn't get much better than this.
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Format: Hardcover
I was mesmerized by Kapuscinski's account of his travels through Africa during the last 40 years. For me, someone who has not yet been to Africa and has always been confused by the politics of that continent, this book helped greatly in sorting out the issues, politics and history of that region. Kapuscinski is a brilliant writer and, more importantly, a brilliant story teller. Visions of certain related stories play through my head as if a part of my own distant memories, such as his killing of a snake, his night in a cockroach-infested hotel room in Monrovia, his descriptions of heat and sunlight. My only complaint about this book is that it dwells too much on the negatives of Africa. Surely somewhere there are beautiful cities, or at least sections of cities. Although the history, personalities, and misdeeds came through strongly, the beauty of this continent did not.
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Format: Paperback
I bought this book in Johannesburg Airport, waiting for a plane to Madagascar. After turning the first page I became entranced and could barely stop reading until both the book and the plane ride had ended. "Shadow of the Sun" consists of a series of short tales, vignettes really. Each tale provides an insight into the vagaries of human behavior, the punishing impact of a fierce climate, and the lives of people whose only goal is to live until another sun rises. The brief descriptions are poignant and compelling, the prose beautifully translated, and the stories heartwrenching. It's one of those books that make you want to give copies to everyone you know.

Most readers will never have experienced the kind of desperate inventiveness that characterize very poor countries. Barefoot children beg for money and food and live by their wits on the streets. Families in rural areas make do with mud huts and no electricity or potable water; they forage for wood and grass for cooking. And so forth. Kapuscinski shows us all of that and more, but adds a spirit of joy and hope.
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To say that this is the best book on Africa that I have ever read would not amount to much of a recommendation, since I have not read much on the subject. However, I can honestly say that it is one of the 10 best books that I have ever read, period! Kapuscinski might know more about Africa than any other non-African writer in the world, since he has spent many years there and been to seemingly every country on the continent. This book contains two dozen or so essays, each about 10 pages long and dealing with one of Kapuscinski's adventures. There are dispatches from everywhere: Ghana, Uganda, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, Mali, Mauritania, Cameroon, Liberia, Nigeria, Tanzania, Somalia, Zanzibar, and probably a few more countries that escape my memory. There is something here for everybody. If you are looking for penetrating analyses of current affairs, there is a great chapter on Idi Amin, a chapter on the social origins of the Rwandan genocide, an insider's account of one of Nigeria's many military coups, and many others. One of my favorite chapters was about the Liberian civil war. In a particularly telling scene, two men approach Kapuscinski in the airport just after he has arrived. "We will protect you," one of them says without emotion. "Without us, you will perish." One of Kapuscinski's great strenghts is his ability to convey everyday life in the places he is reporting from, and especially the ways in which that life is disrupted by wars, famines, military takeovers, etc. His dispatches from Liberia, southern Sudan, and Ethiopia are particularly moving. Some of my favorite stories, however, come from Kapuscinski's visits to ordinary African villages far from any cities or major highways. He has an uncanny ability to describe the tenor of life in these places.Read more ›
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