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5.0 out of 5 stars Nothing Short of Brilliant, a unique and objective view of Soviet life, 19 Sep 2011
This review is from: Imperium (Paperback)
The Soviet Union was a closed and intriguing society. From that era there have come many great travel books, many thought-evoking political polemics and many excellent historical accounts. Few however have been excellent and few however have covered all three of the above.

Kapuscinski was born in Pinsk; Poland at the time of his birth and presently part of the Republic of Belarus. He would go on to live an intriguing life as a correspondent for the Polish press, producing some staggering works of non-fiction from around the third world and operating as a spy for the communist government. As unbelievable as it may seem for somebody so closely linked to the communist regime, this is the most objective book about the USSR that I have come across.

Imperium is the account of Kapuscinski's various travel through the USSR from the 1958 to 1993 and uncovers the rawness of life in the region from the cold Krushchev Era right upto Perestroikia and the collapse of the Union. Beginning with the Red Army's Occupation of his birth town in 1937, Kapuscinski exercises a lifelong interest in the Russians and offers his unique view on this inexplicable land.

Kapuscinski's prose is intricate and creative, perfectly capturing a frustratingly bleak landscape of despair. Through his experiences he depicts a wonderfully human and contradictory nation about whom he is honest and descriptive, to the point of being perverse. Whilst principally a travel book, his interest in human nature and politics cues him to unravel as best he can the complexities of a social experiment gone horribly wrong. The intrigue of Soviet life is endless and anybody who feels sheltered in their comfortable life can only be humbled and awed by the struggles of the people represented in this book.

The crowning glory of this book however comes in Kapuscinski's personal experiences and the situations that he has to fight his way out of. Most notably the author's illegal journey to the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, undertaken at the height of the Soviet exodus of Azerbaijan at a time where journalists were banned from visiting. His subtle yet nail-biting account of the official corruption that allowed his travel, the sheer desperation and poverty depicted at Yerevan Airport and the apathy of the people that held the key to his escape could be a metaphor for life in the Soviet Union as a whole.

If you think you know anything about the USSR then think again. This book spans the gap in all knowledge, being neither written by an outsider from the west nor an unreliable source from within. Kapuscinski's objective description of life, weaved together by a series of incredible personal experiences make for an enlightening read which trumps any other book covering this incredibly opaque period of world history.
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