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During a brief period of political ‘thaw’ in Poland following Stalin’s death in 1953, a young reporter named Ryszard Kapuściński dreamed of being allowed to leave the country – not to go as far as Paris or London, but simply to cross the border. A year after he confessed his desire to his editor, the terrified Kapuściński was sent to India. He knew almost nothing about life in other countries; his only frame of reference was his copy of Herodotus’ The Histories. He returned overwhelmed by the experience, embarrassed by his ignorance, but determined to see the world.
With Herodotus as his companion, Kapuściński’s career had begun. A series of investigative travels across Asia and Africa would make him one of the greatest reporters of his day, with an instinct for finding the heart of the action and an endless curiosity about his fellow human beings. Travels with Herodotus is partly a snapshot of Kapuściński’s career, partly a tribute to his predecessor Herodotus, whom he describes as ‘the consummate reporter’. Kapuściński takes us from India to China, from the Congo to Turkey, and back and forth in time to witness demonstrators shot in the streets of Tehran or Darius erecting the temples and palaces of Persepolis. Herodotus had been banned in communist Poland because he depicted tyrants whose actions led to their overthrow. Kapuściński’s own books contained similar subversive messages. Both Herodotus and Kapuściński saw poverty, brutality and destruction, and yet both writers remained critically engaged, not crushed by their experiences.
Kapuściński was a gifted photographer, and this new Folio edition contains a selection of his astonishing pictures, held in an archive in Warsaw. Some of these have never previously been published. They reveal Kapuściński as a great portraitist, who befriended individuals and captured their stories, both in his books and with his 35mm Zorca. Margaret Atwood was ‘honoured and pleased’ when we asked her permission to reprint her 2007 obituary of Kapuściński as the preface for this book. It ends with a quotation from Travels with Herodotus: ‘We stand in darkness, surrounded by light’. For Atwood, this is a fitting epitaph for ‘this modest man who was a superlative witness to our times’.
Review by Smiler69 on 21st Apr 2013
"I wasn't familiar with Kapuściński before, and as I read comparatively little non-fiction, didn't know whether I'd enjoy this volume as much as the book's description seemed to indicate I might. I n..." [read more]