India Uncut

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Ryszard Kapuscinski and the shape of tunnels

Ryszard Kapuscinski is dead, one of the finest chroniclers of the 20th century taking his leave of the 21st. Kapuscinski spent much of his career as a foreign correspondent, working by day on the kind of traditional reports we see in our newspapers. But, as Michael Kaufman of the New York Times writes:
At night, he worked on longer, descriptive essays with phantasmagoric touches that went far beyond the details of the day’s events, using allegory and metaphors to convey what was happening.

“It’s not that the story is not getting expressed” in ordinary news reports, he said in an interview. “It’s what surrounds the story. The climate, the atmosphere of the street, the feeling of the people, the gossip of the town; the smell; the thousands and thousands of elements that are part of the events you read about in 600 words of your morning paper.”

[...] Though each of Mr. Kapuscinski’s books was distinct, they all shared a sense of shimmering reality. There was, for instance, his account of the departure of Portuguese settlers from Angola as independence and civil war settled on the country. He described how everything of value, from cars to refrigerators, was leaping into boxes and floating off to Europe.

In preparing these articles he never took notes and used memory to stimulate his poetic imagination. In “Imperium,” he evoked the wintry cold of the old Soviet penal colonies by quoting a schoolgirl who said she could tell who had passed by her house by the shape of the tunnels they had left in the crystallized air.
Another example of his vivid writing, that paints a world while never drawing attention to itself, is quoted in Chandrahas's post on Kapuscinski. Indeed, if you aspire to be a journalist or a writer, do check out some of these remarkable books: "The Shadow of the Sun," "Imperium," "The Soccer War," "The Shah of Shahs." In fact, all of them.
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