The life and work of Ryszard Kapuściński was dangerously bold and deeply enigmatic. This controversial biography opens up the secrets and contradictions of this globally renowned Polish journalist and writer.
Artur Domosławski travels the globe, following in Kapuściński’s footsteps, delving into his private conflicts and anxieties and discovering the relationships that were the catalyst for his unique style of ‘literary reportage’. The result is a compelling and uncompromising portrait of a conflicted and brilliant individual.
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In the ideology of the state at that time, a journalist was supposed to be a soldier on the ideological frontline-- Artur Domosławski
For the many people who were unable to attend last night's fully booked Kapuściński event at the Frontline Club with author Artur Domosławski, the entire conversation and Q&A is now available online.
Chaired by Victoria Brittain, former associate foreign editor at the Guardian and unapologetic Kapuściński fan, the event was both a celebration of Domosławski's book and Kapuściński's life and writing. But the question was also proposed at the start of the evening of the often blurry relationship between journalism and literature, and whether Kapuściński’s style was reminiscent of reportage rather than journalism.
Kapuściński's life, like his writing, was rich and enigmatic. On the publication of The Emperor in the 1980s, it was read by many as an allegory of the 'court' of the Communist Party in Poland during the 1970s. “The Emperor is the best Polish novel of the twentieth century" was what one of Kapuściński's friends was reported to have said. Domosławski tends to believe that Kapuściński would not disagree.
Domosławski and Brittain were also joined by John Ryle, the writer and specialist in Eastern Africa, a topic of much of Kapuściński's writing, as well as Antonia Lloyd-Jones, the English translator of Ryszard Kapuściński: A Life.
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."