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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 (69 customer reviews)
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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"

From the Publisher

One of the most perceptive evocations of Africa ever written
‘Here is perhaps the most essential of the century’s figures – the wandering dissident.’ Christopher Hitchens

‘Half Hemingway, half Borges,’ Vanity Fair

The Shadow of the Sun: My African Life By Ryszard Kapuscinski

In 1957 the 25-year old Ryszard Kapuscinski arrived in Africa, sent by the Polish news agency. Over the next 40 years as a journalist he witnessed 27 revolutions, survived 4 death sentences, endured malaria, tuberculosis and imprisonment. And in his despatches home he wrote some of the most perceptive evocations of the continent ever published.

The Shadow of the Sun, published by Allen Lane the Penguin Press on 11 June, tells the story of his life in Africa, available in English for the first time.

Kapuscinski is never interested in the obvious. He was once asked by a fellow journalist why, if he hadn’t managed to interview the Rwandan President, he’d bothered to visit the country at all. His reportage nonetheless gives incisive portraits of African leaders – from Amin to Mengitsu, and yet he more often keeps away from high-level politics, palaces, official routes. Instead, he lodges in slum areas of Lagos, hitches across the Sahara in fearsomely delapidated trucks, spends time with peasants in the savannah. In the book he hallucinates mirages in the desert while dangerously dehydrated; he narrowly survives malaria and TB; he makes a moonlight flit by boat from Zanzibar where a coup had just toppled colonial rule.

‘Any time there’s trouble in the world, he wants to get on a plane and go. If he hears about a road no man can take and live, he takes the road just to see if he can get through. The way in which he understands the world is to go to the hot spot, the place where it’s boiling. And actually I think nobody who puts himself in danger as much as he does is entirely sane.' Salman Rushdie

The Shadow of the Sun begins in 1958 in Ghana – the first of the African states to gain independence. Kapuscinski shows how the post-colonial euphoria of the 1950s and early 60s descended into the devastation of coups, revolutions, civil war, and famine. But he also paints a compelling portrait of the people of Africa – their attitudes towards religion, family, and time, their endurance of lives of extraordinary toil and hardship, and their astonishing patience and good humour.

Many westerners remain ignorant of the great and tragic story of Africa. The Shadow of the Sun brings us closer than ever before to an understanding of the continent and its people. At the same time the book tells Kapuscinski’s own story – the tale of one of the most celebrated literary journalists of our generation. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Ryszard Kapuscinski was a legendary journalist and writer whose previous books include ANOTHER DAY OF LIFE, THE EMPEROR: DOWNFALL OF AN AUTOCRAT (which Salman Rushdie called 'an unforgettable, fiercely comic, and finally compassionate book'), SHAH OF SHAHS, IMPERIUM and THE SOCCER WAR.
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