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The Shadow of the Sun Paperback – April 9, 2002
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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 Kapuciñski helps remedy with this book based on observations gathered over more than four decades.
Kapuciñski 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," Kapuciñski 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, Kapuciñski'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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Top Customer Reviews
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.
Yes, Kapucinski does include exotica, but without sensationalizing: there are harrowing encounters with flora, fauna, disease, the elements and, again and again, the terrible heat (which he finds as many ways of describing as the proverbial Inuit has of describing snow). But Kapucinski always returns to human dimensions and conditions and, above all, to the patterns and rhythms and variations of human exchange around which life in the many Africas organizes itself. And, always, he seeks to convey and to understand the point of view of his many interlocutors, rather than to make facile attributions or easy generalizations.
This is superb reportage and an essential document by a true master. It is to me staggering that, published by the same house as Robert Kaplan (of The Coming Anarchy fame) and sensitively covering the very turf that so alarmed Kaplan, Kapucinski remains comparatively unknown. Fix that.
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.
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.