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The Shadow of the Sun Paperback – April 9, 2002
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“A highly detailed, heartfelt, but unsentimental introduction to Africa’s afflictions and a quiet love song to its profound appeal.” —The Wall Street Journal, Ryszard Kapuscinski (Author of The Emperor)
"The penetrating intelligence of Mr. Kapuscinski's vision and his knack for a kind of crystallized descriptive writing have never been on better display. . . . A marvel of humane, sorrowful and lucid observation." —The New York Times
“[Kapuscinski] has explored that sliver of high, thinly populated ground on which journalism and literature are occasionally joined. . . . A wise, engaging close-up filled with faces, landscapes, rutted roads, and the daily perils of African life." —BusinessWeek
“[Kapuscinski's] great strengths are his style--candid, understated and slightly absurdist, veering into abrupt flights of lyricism on unexpected subjects--and his gift for picking out stories, that condense volumes of information into a single perfectly crafted passage." —The Washington Post
From the Inside Flap
In 1957, Ryszard Kapuscinski arrived in Africa to witness the beginning of the end of colonial rule as the first African correspondent of Poland's state newspaper. From the early days of independence in Ghana to the ongoing ethnic genocide in Rwanda, Kapuscinski has crisscrossed vast distances pursuing the swift, and often violent, events that followed liberation. Kapuscinski hitchhikes with caravans, wanders the Sahara with nomads, and lives in the poverty-stricken slums of Nigeria. He wrestles a king cobra to the death and suffers through a bout of malaria.
What emerges is an extraordinary depiction of Africa--not as a group of nations or geographic locations--but as a vibrant and frequently joyous montage of peoples, cultures, and encounters. Kapuscinski's trenchant observations, wry analysis and overwhelming humanity paint a remarkable portrait of the continent and its people. His unorthodox approach and profound respect for the people he meets challenge conventional understandings of the modern problems faced by Africa at the dawn of the twenty-first century.
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This remarkable man was Ryszard Kapuscinski, who began his career as a foreign correspondent in 1957, when Poland’s state newspaper dispatched him to Africa to observe the unwinding of the colonial era. For a reader steeped in the anti-Communist propaganda of the times, I had expected his writing — for Communist publications during more than three-quarters of his career — to be riddled with Marxist-Leninist jargon, but there’s none of that in The Shadow of the Sun, one of Kapuscinski’s six books. This compilation of articles and essays he wrote about his experience in Africa is nothing less than a revelation — written with the grace and power of a novelist at the peak of his talent, infused with empathy and insight about the people he encountered, and nowhere, but nowhere, politically biased beyond what any intelligent contemporary Western observer of colonialism might be.
Here is Kapuscinski describing the African concept of time: “you go to a village where a meeting is scheduled for the afternoon but find no one at the appointed spot, asking ‘When will the meeting take place?’ . . . You know the answer: ‘It will take place when people come.”
Here he reflects on the permeability of African nations’ borders: “The population of Africa was a gigantic, matted, crisscrossing web, spanning the entire continent and in constant motion, endlessly undulating, bunching up in one place and spreading out in another, a rich fabric, a colorful arras . . . [M]any African societies (some claim all of them) today occupy terrain that they did not previously inhabit. All are arrivals from elsewhere, all are immigrants.”
Here Kapuscinski finds the roots of the kleptocracies that rule so many nations today: “The colonial origins of the African state — a state wherein the [British or French or Portuguese] civil servant received remuneration beyond all measure and reason — ensured that in independent Africa, the struggle for power instantly assumed an extremely fierce and ruthless character.” As the saying goes in East Africa, adopted as a title by the British journalist Michaela Strange for her book about corruption in Kenya, “It’s our turn to eat.”
Kapuscinski ascribes much of Africa’s instability to the European conference convened in Berlin by the Prussian statesman Bismarck: “European colonialists . . . 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.”
The Shadow of the Sun is a treasure-chest of incisive reporting about Africa’s recent past, featuring vivid and disturbing accounts of the antecedents of Liberia’s ghastly civil wars, the origins of the Rwandan genocide, and the roots of recurring famine in the nations of the Horn.
I detected only one glaring error in The Shadow of the Sun. As a Pole, growing up in an overwhelmingly Catholic country, Kapuscinski might be forgiven for referring to a Protestant minister as a priest and to the service he conducted as a mass. Or perhaps the fault lies with his translator, Klara Glowczewska. Despite this flaw, and other errors of fact or interpretation that I might not have caught, The Shadow of the Sun is a extraordinary piece of work, as readable and relevant today as it was when first published a decade and a half ago.
Certainly, the great subject of SHADOW is dysfunction. Here, the types of this dysfunction, as well as their associated causes and effects, are depressingly familiar. In no particular order, these include greedy and unscrupulous elites, failed traditions and social structures, frequent coup d'états, ethnic hatreds, warlords, the legacies of slavery and colonialism, the paradox of international relief efforts, impoverished internal refugees, child soldiers with automatic weapons, and gargantuan urban areas without industry or jobs.
Kapuscinski's treatment of dysfunction is highly skillful. Primarily what he does is to write about dysfunction in a particular country at a particular time, often attaching a malaise or tragedy to a news story he covered in his thirty years of journalism in Africa. The effect is that these well-known problems are vitalized by Kapuscinski's direct encounters with them. Through his journalism, you are there to witness first-hand the effects of cupidity by the elites, brutality, or widespread joblessness. It's first-rate work.
Kapuscinski's second theme is the mentality of the people in sub-Sahara Africa. In this case, there's much to learn from Kapuscinski as he discusses the spiritual and communal traditions in this region. But the issue he implicitly raises in these discussions is: Do these traditions enable Africans to cope with modern life? Overwhelmingly, his answer is an unambiguous NO.
Kapuscinski's third theme is the heat. In writing about Somalia, for example, he observes: "These are the hottest places on earth... Daytime hours ... are a hell almost impossible to bear. All around, everything is burning... even the wind is ablaze... [in this] people grow still, silence descends, a lifeless overwhelming quiet." Likewise, a visit to a Mauritanian village elicits: "It was noon. In all the dwellings... lay silent, inert people. Their faces were bathed in sweat. The village was like a submarine at the bottom on the ocean; it was there, but it emitted no signals, soundless, motionless." The heat affects everything.
Kapuscinski does provide one upbeat chapter. This describes opportunistic entrepreneurship in the town of Onitsha (Nigeria), where men pull trucks from a sinkhole that is on the road to a huge open-air market. Nonetheless, the content of this book is mostly depressing. Malnourished people, he points out, protect themselves from the heat with their lassitude, since a person "...toiling, would grow weaker still and in exhaustion easily succumb to... tropical diseases. Life here is a struggle, an endlessly repeated effort to tilt in one's favor the fragile, flimsy, and shaky balance between survival and extinction."
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Kapuscinski is a master of the genre, and takes advantage of every single line to meet his objective:...Read more