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The Shadow of the Sun: My African Life [Paperback]

Ryszard Kapuscinski , Klara Glowczewska
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
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Book Description

28 Mar 2002
'Only with the greatest of simplifications, for the sake of convenience, can we say Africa. In reality, except as a geographical term, Africa doesn't exist'. Ryszard Kapuscinski has been writing about the people of Africa throughout his career. In astudy that avoids the official routes, palaces and big politics, he sets out to create an account of post-colonial Africa seen at once as a whole and as a location that wholly defies generalised explanations. It is both a sustained meditation on themosaic of peoples and practises we call 'Africa', and an impassioned attempt to come to terms with humanity itself as it struggles to escape from foreign domination, from the intoxications of freedom, from war and from politics as theft.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; New Ed edition (28 Mar 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140292624
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140292626
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.5 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 35,701 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Polish writer and foreign correspondent Ryszard Kapuscinski may be in the twilight of a golden career spanning more than 40 years but The Shadow of the Sun, an alternative record of his experiences of Africa and its stupefying white heat, is perhaps his finest hour. This for a writer who, to echo the sentiments of Michael Ignatieff, has turned reportage into literature. Drawn to the Developing World through an impoverished wartime upbringing, Kapuscinski arrived in Ghana in 1957 and was on hand to witness the tumultuous years in which colonial Africa was dismantled, resulting in born-again countries ripe for ransacking by despots. From the glare of Accra airport which greets him on first arrival, to the Tanzanian night of the final pages, he crosses savannah, desert and city by foot, road and train, searching out the two most important, yet inconstant commodities on the continent: shade and water. Threatened by an Egyptian cobra, cursed with cerebral malaria and tuberculosis, plagued by black cockroaches the size of small turtles, Kapuscinski intermingles the immediate and the reflective in 29 satisfyingly fragmented vignettes, encompassing historical narratives and personal experience across a host of countries, including Ethiopia, Uganda, Nigeria, Sudan and Liberia.

While acknowledging European colonial culpability, he refuses to rinse his words in guilt. The Shadow of the Sun is reminiscent of Gianni Celati's Adventures in Africa, employing similarly symphonic atmospherics that can bear poetic witness to both the tragic history of Rwanda and the Ngubi beetle, which toils in the desert to produce the sweat it drinks to survive. As much about the plastic water container as the warlord and preferring the African shanty town to the Manhattan skyscraper as a monument to human achievement, what Kapuscinski, the author of Shah of Shahs describes is not Africa, which he claims does not exist except geographically but a distillation of life itself, through its religiosity, its trees, the frightening abundance of youth, sun that "curdles the blood" and terrorising, ruling armies that fall in a day. The first in a projected trilogy pulling together Africa, Central America and Asia, The Shadow of the Sun is an exceptional and humbling work of imagination and experience by a writer intent on liberating truths from fact. --David Vincent --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"This harrowing, at times shattering, chronicle of 40 years of adventures in Africa finds Kapuscinski in trouble again. . . . He crushes a cobra to save his life, moves with nomads through Somalia, and waits to die from thirst beneath a truck in the Sahara. Kapuscinski alternates between plain prose and shimmering imagery, using understatement to dispel easy stereotypes about Africa and Africans, and finishing a paragraph or two of spare exposition with some dazzling revelation or note of remorse that leaves you reeling. With rare exception, these distant episodes amaze." -- Brad Wieners, "Outside ""An astonishing piece of writing . . . as vital a book as any I've read in recent years, an outstanding introduction to the tangled threads of African culture and politics and a manual in the modes of human cruelty and redemption . . . Kapuscinski . . . may be the greatest journalist of our time. . . . Kapuscinski bears his historical baggae lightly through the African landscape, but his inability to tell the story in the dispassionate tones of an outsider is what gives this visionary book such power." -- Mark Levine, "Men's Journal "From the U.K.: " ""A dazzling narrative historian, using his own experience as the principal archive. . . . he is never less than clear and pungent; his short chapter on the genocidal hatreds of Rwanda is worth a hundred newspaper features. . . . He brings the world to us as nobody else." -- Ian Jack, "The Observer" "Kapuscinski doesn't just 'cover' Africa -- he knows it. His perspective is both vast and uniquely informed." -- Keith Wilson, "Focus" "His book most successfully conveys the charms, frustrations, tragedies, comedies, brutalities, and kindnesses of life in Africa. . . . as an observer, and as a recorder of his observations, he is second to none." -- Anthony Daniels, "Sunday Telegraph""His is the first wide-ranging, elegant, aristocratic intelligence since Conrad's to bear on Africa in all its perplexity. . . . Kapuscinski is a master of the charismatic shorthand that leaves the reader knowing all there is to know, yet wanting to know more." -- Jeremy Harding," Evening Standard" "Both subtle and haunting, a book written with love and longing, as sharp and life-enhancing as the sun that rises on an African morning." -- Anthony Sattin, "Sunday Times" "An elliptical picture of African life that is intellectually acute and emotionally rich." -- Will Cohu," Daily Telegraph" "He has given the truest, least partial, most comprehensive and vivid account of what life is like on our planet. He is an unflinching witness "and" an exuberant stylist." -- Geoff Dyer, "The Guardian"

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
40 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Africa in a nutshell 4 Nov 2002
I've visited Africa several times and have read a number of African travel books, but for me this one stands out hand and shoulders above the rest. Based on the author's personal experiences as a journalist spanning the whole continent each chapter presents a fresh insight into African culture,physchology, beleifs and history . Whether it is describing the revolution in Zanzibar (where the author himself was taken hostage), the rise of the 3rd-rate officer Amin to president of Uganda or observations drawn from travelling amongst the ordinary villages and people the author allows neither sentimentalism nor predjudice to cloud a hugely entertaining and informative read.
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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Manic violence and measured thoughts 30 Jun 2004
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Ignatieff is right - Kapuscinski does turn reporting into literature. But maybe he oversteps the boundary sometime....I catch myself wondering if things happened quite the way he describes them. His imagination is attracted by the the baroque, the sensational, and the extreme. That said, this was probably the reason he fell in love with Africa in the first place - his need for heightened emotions and extreme situations.

Even so, it's very worth reading this book, not so much for the reportage as for the analysis. His dispatches from civil war zones are amazingly lurid, especially from Liberia. But maybe too lurid to be food for thought beyond 'heart-of-darkness' similes.
What I particularly value in this book is his very lucid and measured analysis of the rise of Amin; of the ubiquity of the warlord and child soldier; of the genocide in Rwanda; of the class structure of independent Africa; of the perils facing even the most patriotic of African leaders (here, Eritrea; in his book The Soccer Wars he makes a similar point about Ben Bella in Algeria). And his vignettes of daily life are also fascinating: the witchcraft he used against burglars in Lagos, the merchant lady in Senegal.

In notice the cover of this book is plastered with glowing reviews - but not one is from from an African source or african writer. What do Africans make of it, I wonder...
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76 of 78 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Africa comes out of the Shadows 3 Oct 2002
I grew up in Africa, a barefooted white boy enjoying the final desperate priviledges of the dying Empire. And as a young man I taught in Nigeria. These are all fading memories now, yet not until now have I read anything which so transports me back to the white heat of the sun, and the marketplaces, and the footpaths, and the vibrancy that is Africa. This is a book that lays bare the real Africa without any burden of ideology or polemic - except for a touching underlying affection for the place. If you ever felt confused about the tribal factions in Rwanda, or the forces that led to the rise of Amin in Uganda, or whatever happened to the freed American slaves in Liberia, or the reasons for the conflict in Eritrea - then this is the book. Exquisite.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Shadow of the Sun - Ryszard Kapuscinski 6 July 2002
By A Customer
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A quite wonderful book; humane, insightful, hugely enquiring - how would you categorize A Shadow of the Sun? It's at once a history of the development of the continent, from heady independence days as the book opens, to drought and corruption, and now to struggle and opportunity, a feeling that the worst is past, but improvement so hard to achieve; it's of course a dazzling travelogue, high and low he has been, from suffocating aridity in the desert to malarial downpours in West Africa, from Eritrea to Tanzania to Mali to Nigeria; it's almost a poem at times, to the spirit he so admires in the people he meets, the awe he feels as he sees the relationship between nature which is harsh, life-giving and taking, and the communities that live their lives around nature (how different to Europe!); it's an understated but lancing polemic as he depicts the day-by-day struggle of the urban poor, betrayed by their leaders, trapped in a society where interactions with Europe have yet to fully right themselves from the distortions of the colonial period; but the best thing about the book is that in the many snapshots and scenes he writes about, he is able to capture so well what it feels like to be there, sometimes intimidating, sometimes exhilarating, the space and light, laughter, wonder, infuriating and inspiring.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sublime Encapsulation of Africa 4 July 2006
Such a big continent matched only by the breadth and expressiveness of Kapuskinski's writing, faithfully and skillfully translated. No wonder Poland counted him as the finest journalist from Poland in the 20th Century. Although I love travel and discerning travel books, I had no interest in Africa. That all changed with this book. It is wonderfully human, detailed and absorbing. For anyone else who is interested I think it is only matched by the writing of Anna Politkovskaya.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Africa is a continent of such extraordinary diversity that almost anything you say about it collectively is both true and untrue, depending on where you stand literally and figuratively.
But one thing is common to all of Africa: it is subject to entirely different rules. What is true in Europe is not true in Africa; what is an article of faith in Africa is incomprehensible in Europe.
Ryszard Kapuscinski, a Pole, has been visiting Africa as a journalist since l957. In pursuit, admittedly hopelessly, of a true understanding of Africa, he has avoided 'official routes, important personages and high-level politics'.
He preferred the nomad camp, the Lagos slums, the bombed Eritrean towns. He has tried to understand the spiritual life of Africans, while making it clear that the term 'African', although necessary, is not really helpful.
But it is here, in the margins, that Kapuscinski has achieved something no other commentator I know of has done, compassionate insights which reveal so much.
For example, he explains that for an African, time is not, in the European sense, a master to which the African is enslaved. On the contrary, time only exists when things happen. Thus a bus will leave a terminal when it is full, a ceremony will take place when everybody turns up.
From his very first visit to Ghana until the present day, he has been overwhelmed by the beauty and the squalor of Africa, and puzzled both by its
generosity and its cruelty.
Kapuscinski comes close to saying that Africans are incapable of engendering within themselves the will to transform. We are told African leaders also have a fatal lack of self-critical faculties, which leads to delusion and paranoia, grudges and manias. He might have been writing about Mugabe.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars a Big Country
The book is impressive in its scope; but then you come to realise - and this is to Kapuscinski's credit - just how huge the subject is. Read more
Published 26 days ago by anthony eyre
5.0 out of 5 stars Little pearls of wisdom and insight, beautifully written
An excellent book of travel blogs avant la lettre. Kapuscinsky is a brilliant painter of situations and conditions, in this case Africa, since the Fifties. Read more
Published 1 month ago by A. M. Fifield
5.0 out of 5 stars A great book, describes well Africa
A great book, describes well Africa.. the perception of time & space. It became a book of reference during my 3 years of life in Africa.
Published 1 month ago by Ahmad B.
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 1 month ago by Krzysztof Knop
5.0 out of 5 stars Really amazing book. Opens eyes to the continent and it's ...
Really amazing book. Opens eyes to the continent and it's history that influences today's reality on so many levels. Read more
Published 1 month ago by MISS M MASLOWSKA
3.0 out of 5 stars I was quite disappointed with this as I found the writing quite...
I was quite disappointed with this as I found the writing quite jarring. I was also expecting it to more about the authors experiences. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Ladyhawk
4.0 out of 5 stars A good insight into the mind of the African helping explain ...
A good insight into the mind of the African helping explain the differences in the approach to life between the local people and the west
Published 2 months ago by JACB
5.0 out of 5 stars a must read
For anyone interested in modern African history this a must read. It's eloquent, informed and so interesting I found it hard to put it down. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Gail Paget
5.0 out of 5 stars If you know how to read, read this book. Now.
Ryszard is an absolute hero of mine for this book alone. His simple, approachable writing is insightful the the extreme. Read more
Published 3 months ago by E Forrest
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting
Good reading, more so for someone who has/had some Africa exposure and may have even seen some of the places.
Published 3 months ago by MB
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