Ryszard Kapuscinski: The Biography by Artur Domoslawski: review

By @SimonCocking

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2012 Ryszard Kapuscinski: The Biography by Artur Domoslawski

Kapuscinski, the legendary writer, up there with Norman Lewis, Bruce Chatwin, Graham Greene, all intrepid explorers. Keen to see the world, travel, and learn about it’s obscure and unknown elements. Plenty of time in Africa and Latin America among other places.

A journalist for a long time before moving into writing books, longer, more poetic pieces. It seems like a logical process, to go into more depth about what he has seen. The challenge for his biographer is how to create an accurate portrait. Or rather, as a fan, and admirer of Kapuscinski’s work, he still knows he has to produce a fair and balanced work, rather than merely deifying him.

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It’s clear Domoslawski struggles with this dilemma. The more he researches Kapuscinski, the more it is clear that Kapu (as some nickname him) has played loose and wide with some of the facts. Events reordered, tales retold, to capture their essence rather than their actuality. It’s happened before, many times, Norman Lewis told the same ‘true story’ several times over, each time differently to the other. We then move into that whole area of discussing poetic licence. Is he capturing the greater ‘truth’, by slight, or more than just slight, reworkings of reality.

As fans of these writers too, we’re not looking for scandal or to tear apart these writers reputations. However it does become an interesting recurring theme when it turns out that so much of what we have read, is not quite as it happened. Where does this leave us when it comes to reportage and telling our readers what happened. What actually happened, or what could or should have happened?

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It was a good read, a bit of a momentary luxury in between many other more prosaic books read at the moment. At the same time, inadvertently, it did shed light on some important issues to keep thinking about when we read and write.  Domoslawski resolves the issue between Kapu’s flaws and his great creations, by looking at Gandhi and  Martin Luther King and concluding that inspiring individuals rise above their flaws, foibles and failings to do great things – rather than because of the more fallible aspects of their personalities.

Kapu’s creative reworkings, and egotistical failings don’t put me off him. I still want to read more of his books, and will hopefully go on to do so. This was a good book, a little quirky at times in terms of the biographers insecurity about being qualified to write it, but still worth a read. I then went to Hodges & Figges on Dawson St, to the second floor, to stand in front of the holy shrine of great travel writers. I was pleased to see that Kapuscinski was there, occupying his rightful place. I smiled and moved on to cover my next event on, aptly enough, Marco Polo.



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