Travels With Herodotus by Ryszard Kapuscinski
Travels With Herodotus
Early on in this mighty and thoughtful book, Kapuscinski, who, sadly, died earlier this year, notes that the Polish translation of Herodotus’ Histories that was sent to the typesetter in 1951 did not appear in bookstores until 1955. In three or four paragraphs he manages to encapsulate life in a totalitarian regime and to illuminate the state of perpetual irony in which intelligent people spend their lives in such circumstances.
This is probably as close to an autobiography of this singular scribe as we shall get, and that’s a pity. He spent his life in the midst of many of the conflicts that so regrettably dominated life in the twentieth century, and that he did so from the other side of the great political divide only adds strength to his pronouncements. In a remarkably understated and even voice he chronicled the follies of humankind, at both the institutional and personal levels, and inserted himself, usually artlessly, into situations of serious danger, always emerging more bemused than angry, more disappointed than reinforced.
This, his final book, deals with his lifelong fascination and companionship with Herodotus, whose book he took with him to all the far-flung hotspots he reported from, and from whom he took solace and guidance.
The questions he poses about Herodotus, who first set out two and a half thousand years ago to satisfy his curiosity about the clash of civilizations between East (Persia) and West (Greece) are really questions about Kapuscinsky and his insatiable drive to know, if not understand, the world beyond the borders of his own cloistered upbringing.
That both these reporters, separated by millennia, return more baffled than enlightened speaks more to the incomprehensible and reprehensible self-justifying disgraceful conduct that has ruled the affairs of the race throughout that time than it does to any shortcomings on the part of the observers.
It is hard to imagine a world without Ryszard Kapuscinsky. This volume is a fine and fitting cap on a body of work that will stand the test of time, like his hero Herodotus.
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