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Ryszard Kapuscinski
Kapuscinski is one of the few great writers of our time trying to locate answers to the most pressing and fundamental questions posed for humanity. His is a unique approach to writing which blends the objectivity of a reporter, the analytical skill and knowledge of a trained historian, the flexibility of a translator, the verbal virtuosity of a storyteller, and the empathic capacity of a poet, to create a body of work that is no longer a matter of mere words, but of ideas that have had a profound influence on the consciousnesses of his audiences around the world. Equipped with the experience of the 100 countries he has visited, a personal biography more dramatic than that of many of his protagonists, and talent that stretches from poetry to photography, Kapuscinski imbues his oeuvre with a global and, at the same time, passionately humanistic tenor.

Writing is not simply a profession for him, but a vocation in the truest sense: a mission, a calling, a lifetime task, a way of living. And it is in this inextricability of the work and the man, in the melding of his own personal experiences of war, of hunger, of poverty with his chosen subject of the Third World, that the quality that distinguishes Kapuscinski's voice can be found.

As Adam Hochschild expressed it in his November 3rd, 1994 article in the New York Review of Books: "What gives Kapuscinski's voice such integrity is that his early first-hand experience of autocracy and national conquest broadened rather than narrowed him. It gave him an unerring moral radar for detecting the abuses and delusions of every sort of autocracy and nationalism, large and small, whether in Moscow or Yerevan, Tehran or Johannesburg."

Kapuscinski is one of a handful of writers who is writing a modern history of the world, relaying the real paradigm shifts and their impact on real human beings, interpreting the monumental changes, and then helping us to understand them.

He is also one of the few journalists fully focused on and dedicated to his craft. His mission, he has said, will be complete only once he has written all that he has planned to write. And he has planned tomes...

His is a dedication that surpasses that of a reporter passively witnessing a given event. He takes an active stance-that of an involved participant, an entranced viewer, and a tireless describer. "Cool writing" is impossible for him. When he goes to Africa, for example, he effectively cuts himself off from the civilized world; he goes deep under the skin into the underlying tissue of the continent in search of the reasons for the growing global poverty. He starves with the starving people about whom he writes.

But this is not the end of his experience. For Kapuscinski, reporting is just the start of a creative process that transforms dispatch into politico-cultural commentary into great literature. In the words of Salman Rushdie, to whom it was quite clear from reading the first two pages of The Emperor, his book is "not just a reportage but a real work of art, a quite astonishing piece of writing unlike anything I'd seen" (Vanity Fair, March 1993).

Kapuscinski's writing resembles at times a mosaic carefully constructed from the tesserae of multitudinous experiences, notes, and impressions drawn from around the world and over the last half of this century. And just as the world has undergone such incredible changes, so too has his techne (his reversion to the immediacy of the pen and paper), and so too has his form: he has mastered probably every genre, and his writing style has evolved in tandem with his quest to locate the appropriate form by which to accommodate his subjectivity and subject matter and to describe-in as concise and immediate and evocative a manner as possible.

John Updike commented in The New Yorker: Kapuscinski has "achieved poetry and aphorism".

One of the truly great authors and humanists of our time, Kapuscinski has elevated his writing to the height of metaphor, of lyrical meditation, of a guide through the labyrinth of our modern world. He is that lonely traveller from the north to the south, exploring the cultural boundaries between rich and poor, building bridges of understanding, and seeking the brother in humanity-in solitude and in hope. He is an ambassador of our turn-of-the-century civilization whose destiny is still an unknown, for (as his words ring clear) the third millenium will belong to the Third World. 

D.K. & M.K.


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