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Ryszard Kapuscinski: A Life reviewed by Financial Times, Daily Telegraph and Irish Times

Elena Greer30 August 2012

Peter Englund, writing in the Financial Times emphasizes Domosławksi’s revelations about Kapuściński’s affiliation with the communist party in Poland- an aspect of his life that Kapuściński never addressed publicly, "instead choosing to gloss over his background. It didn’t fit the image of that brave teller of uncomfortable truths …"


"Domosławksi provides perspective both on Kapuściński’s enduring membership of the communist party and his much more fleeting engagements for Polish Intelligence, and he leaves you with a sense of what went on in the head of this man."

Moving on to one of the other revelations of the book, Englund draws out Kapuściński’s emphasis on the importance of the ‘essence’ of the story, as opposed to the objective truth, noting that Domosławksi even regards, "the well-known figure of Ryszard Kapuściński’ as one of Kapuściński’s literary achievements."  On the subject of literary achievements, Englund reveals that:

"Kapuściński was often mentioned as a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature – and, as a member of the body that awards it, I can say he came very close indeed."

Finally, though, he emphasises the achievements of his biographer:

“This insightful book reminds us that we reveal ourselves too in our evasions and confabulations and indeed, that the distortions of reality are an important part of the image of reality."

Visit the Financial Times to read the review in full. 

Ed O’ Loughlin, writing in the Irish Times, makes much of Kapuściński’s embellishments of his reportage but points out that despite the biographer’s explosion of a number of Kapuściński’s myths, "the sincerity of [Kapuściński’s] beliefs emerges unscathed from Domosławksi’s forensic yet respectful study."

He points out Domosławksi’s contextualization of Kapuściński’s biography in mid 20th century Poland that make:

“Kapuściński’s achievements seem all the greater, his failings more comprehensible, when we see how he was shaped by the turmoil of Poland in the years before, during and after the second World War."

On his writing, O’ Loughlin notes that although his stories may have often contained far-fetched fictional elements, Kapuściński’s emphasis really was on telling the stories of "the little, forgotten people".  Therefore, although:

"His journalistic credentials will take a justifiable battering from this compelling biography, … his best writing, however labelled, will certainly survive it."

 Visit the Irish Times to read the review in full. 

Nicholas Shakespeare’s review in the Telegraph emphasizes Domosławksi’s personal attitudes to finally uncovering the truths about his mentor but also the value of such revelations:

“A full account of a writer’s life might in the end be more a work of literature and more illuminating...than the writer’s books” wrote VS Naipaul…to an extent it is true of this honest an increasingly disenchanted portrait by foreign correspondent Artur Domosławksi."

He goes on to note that, "the failure to write directly about Communism is Domosławksi’s gravest charge", a silence which Domosławksi finds,  ‘disappointing and grating’.  His links with the Polish intelligence too are dispiriting for Domosławksi who claims that he ‘did commit a sin against his profession'.

On Kapuściński’s tales of the mortal danger he faced while travelling in Africa, Shakespeare sums up that:

"If death stared him in the eye and then winked, it was because both knew the truth-and this was, in Domosławksi’s painful judgment, 'radically different'."

Shakespeare concludes that Domosławksi’s biography may offer him compensation if not consolation for his painful research process and honest account by echoing Naipaul’s sentiments:

“One senses him shudder at the lies he uncovers and at the prescription demanded of him to tell the truth, which he administers like a queasy doctor.  His reluctant and fascinating expose is a reminder that the truth isn’t always more interesting than invention; but mostly it is."

 Visit the Telegraph to read the review in full. 

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