This review will be a hard one to write for two reasons. First of all, I'm a great fan of Isaac Bashevis Singer to the point I own some of his books i...moreThis review will be a hard one to write for two reasons. First of all, I'm a great fan of Isaac Bashevis Singer to the point I own some of his books in both Italian and English translation. Secondly, I'm not prudish, puritan, Victorian or whatsoever, but still it hurts me to find plenty of gratuitous, nasty and badly written sex in a novel where it's not supposed to be the core of the story.
Alas, as much as I like I.B Singer, I cannot be that biased to give this late novel of his more than a weak pass mark. True, Singer wrote 'The King of the Fields' when he was already 84 year old which is remarkable, but was writing this novel necessary? I'd daresay not.
Let's start by saying that even though Singer spent 56 years in the US, he kept writing books in Yiddish explaining his choice by stating that English couldn't compete with the multilayered richness of his native language. Fair enough, but another reason why the Nobel Prize winning author didn't switch to English is that he was aware that he didn't master that language very well. That's why all the major works by Singer aren't translated into English by himself, but by close friends and relatives of his with the author's supervision. I've always found Singer's choice to stick to the Yiddish language in writing and to leave the English translations to people with a better knowledge of the subtleties of that language quite honest and fitting to a man who kept a modesty and a sobriety unknown to other Nobel laureates. However, as far as I remember, this is the only novel by I.B. Singer that he himself translated from its original Yiddish to English and unfortunately it shows. The language you'll find in this novel is miles away from the sophisticated and engaging narrative of the best works by his author.
The chief problem with 'The King of the Fields' is that it reads like a young adult novel in terms of writing style and that didn't work for me. I mean, there are plenty of dull dialogues and let-down descriptions. And yet, unlike a historical novel for young adults, history is surprisingly blurry here so much that it's never clear what's the period Singer is writing about. On the one hand, we have uncouth heathen hunters living in caves like Cro-Magnon men, on the other hand there is a description of an unnamed town ('Miasto' means town in Polish) which is portrayed like it might have looked like in the 14th-15th century. We have an anachronistic Jewish character estabilishing a sort of cheder school teaching how to read to folks living in a hamlet where people walk barefoot and don't have a clue on how to farm the fields. We have Polish 'kings' looking and behaving like tribal chiefs and German merchants bartering weapons for furs while peasant townfolks buy meat by using groszen coins. Mmmh, all this sounds rather messy. Doesn't it?
What's worse, Singer enjoyed peppering these pages with some of the most disgusting sex scenes I've ever read. I mean something that would make even accomplished mysoginists such as Philip Roth or Michel Houellebecq blush. I understand, I do understand that I.B. Singer wanted to take the reader into those obscure times where shattered tribes of pagan hunters ruled over nowadays Poland so that you couldn't expect fair treatment to women as well as equal opportunities. Nevertheless, there are so many rapes here and so many women falling in love with their rapists calling them 'my god' that I guess how Singer's point on sexual savagery is more than accomplished after the first 50 pages.
Together with rapes, incest, threesomes, pregnant 13 year old girls, choreographic coitus interruptus techniques and cheeky homosexuality (in pre-medieval Poland!), I couldn't bear some of the hyper-sexualized characters. Let's take the awful and cheesy submissive statements of one of the main characters here - Kora - who is countlessly called a miserable whore and a harlot such as: 'I want to wash your feet and drink the water after ward' (sic!) or 'I enjoyed other men as long as I could go from them to you' or the following dialogue: 'He spat at you and you kissed him?' 'Yes' 'It gave you pleasure?' 'Great pleasure'. Marquis de Sade in pre-medieval Poland? But of course!
I don't know what old Isaac Bashevis was thinking about when he wrote this, but he certainly was into a perverted satyrish period of his long life. There are some redeeming and even interesting moments in 'The King of the Fields', but I'm afraid they cannot balance all the needless and overexposed sexual frenzy you get all over the place. I appreciate that a very old Isaac Bashevis Singer wished to detach himself from his usual milieu writing a story which probably meant to celebrate - in its own way - the birth of the Polish nation, but I cannot deny that this is the worst book by Singer I've ever read. (less)
This was an excellent, engaging and quite informative read which happened just when I needed it. I've been interested in the 1956 Hungarian Uprising/Re...moreThis was an excellent, engaging and quite informative read which happened just when I needed it. I've been interested in the 1956 Hungarian Uprising/Revolution for quite a long time, but - by sheer coincidence - one week upon finishing 'Twelve Days' I finally visited Budapest for the very first time.
I guess it might have been rather annoying for my partner (she has just confirmed that it was) being led through the Hungarian capital by me unawaringly lecturing her on events and anecdotes from October '56. And I reckon how more than once I juxtaposed the monumental main streets and squares we were navigating through with the black and white pictures depicting Soviet tanks, urban guerrilla, rubble and destruction dating back to the uprising. Sorry for that, Paulina! And blame on you, Victor Sebestyen.
For reading 'Twelve Days' brought me straight into a Budapest that is no more. I got sucked into a time vortex blowing me away from A.D. 2014 Poland and leaving me stranded but not confused in 1956 Hungary. It took Mr Sebestyen's wizardry only a few pages to captivate me and - much to his merit - once I get into the history whirlwind I was reluctant to get out of it. I'll tell you why.
'Twelve Days' is one of those rare history books where the context is introduced and explained thoroughly, the chronology is always clear and the narration manages to be enthralling, coherent and consistent. It reads like a well-plotted political spy story with a Machiavellian cast of characters, but it deals with one of the darkest pages in recent European history. Despite of the title he chose, the author doesn't rush to the brave and bloody twelve days of the 1956 uprising/revolution. At the contrary, Mr Sebestyen takes his time to explain what happened to Budapest and Hungary during and after World War II. By doing so the Anglo-Hungarian historian skilfully introduces the readers to a place and time they might not be familiar with and gradually builds up the book to its climax.
Each of the main domestic characters who played a major part in the events leading to 1956 and following it - Matyas Rakosi, Erno Gero, Laszlo Rajk, Imre Nagy, Janos Kadar - is carefully disclosed in an unbiased and quite objective way. True, when it comes to villains Mr Sebestyen stresses out Gero's 'sadistic smile' or Rakosi's 'overwhelming cynicism', but one must not forget that these men sent thousands of people to death and are justly remembered as criminals by Hungarians. What I've found interesting is that the author doesn't depict Imre Nagy - now considered a hero and a martyr by his compatriots - as an entirely positive character. In fact, Sebestyen does quite the opposite by showing us an often undecided politician, an excessively cautious man uncapable to cut the bounds tying him to the USSR and reluctant to accept the moral leadership the Budapest crowds granted him. In the same fashion, Janos Kadar - the man who took over the power after the uprising/revolution was crushed to bits by the Soviet tanks - could be included into the villains ranks as he was 'loathed as a Judas' by Hungarians. And yet, Sebestyen doesn't portray Kadar as merely a Muscovite puppet but reckons how in the years following the uprising he actually did something to soften things up leading to the so called 'goulash socialism'.
On a side note, my only criticism to the author is that he might have done a better job on the international stage. The role played in smashing the uprising by a deus ex machina such as Nikita Kruscev in Moscow is explained but not investigated as much as it could have been. Looking Westwards, Sebestyen expresses some mild criticism towards the lack of interest in Hungary from the US and the UN, but eventually justifies both Eisenhower and Hammarskjoeld for their giving priority to the Suez crisis unfolding in the very same days. This point of view is a tad too simplicistic to be accepted completely, but Sebestyen did such an excellent job overall that I can forgive him.
If you are interested in knowing more about the 1956 Hungarian uprising, revolution (or whatever you call it), 'Twelve Days' is a book to get and read soon. (less)
In fact, one of the things I like the most since I moved to Krakow is that any given bookshop here includes a prope...moreThey do love reportages in Poland.
In fact, one of the things I like the most since I moved to Krakow is that any given bookshop here includes a properly named 'reportaż' section. Which is something unheard of in Italy and still rare in the UK. Depending on the size and on the quality of the Polish bookshop, the reportage section might host only a handful of titles (most likely belonging to the excellent 'Czarne' serie) on a single shelf or cover an entire wall from top to bottom.
Now put yourselves in my shoes. Just like Polish readers do, I love reportages. However, not being able to grasp written Polish more complicated than what your average 5 year old Pole reads, it's quite frustrating to stare in awe at those scores of potentially fantastic but unfathomable books most of them written by authors I revere. Not to mention that sometimes the top shelf of the reportage section is simply too high to be reached from my glorious 1.70 metre tall.
I'll tell you a funny one here. Once I asked for help to a bookseller assistant in order to check the price of a copy of 'Dukla' by Andrzej Stasiuk placed on a topshelf by saying 'Jestem niktim' which - as far as my memory went - was supposed to mean 'I am short' but actually sounds like 'I am nobody'. 'Short' is translated with 'niski'. She smiled, shook her head a bit, stretched her right arm and handed me the aforementioned book. As it cost too much for my budget, I left 'Dukla' behind but placing it on the penultimate shelf from the top as it dawned on me that 'niktim' didn't exactly mean 'short'. Blush.
If there's a Polish Booksellers Association out there, please pay attention: diminutive people read as much as tall ones do and have their same rights to help themselves in your esteemed bookshops!
Anyways, back to the review. They know how to write reportages in Poland and two generations of Polish journalists have been publishing excellent books spanning the whole world. I guess that part of the merit for the shining health of contemporary Polish reportage journalism goes to success gained by Ryszard Kapuscinski, but the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza played an important role as well.
Jacek Hugo-Bader the author of 'White Fever' works for GW just like fellow journalists such as Mariusz Sczygiel, Pawel Smolenski, Joanna Bator and many others. Now the good thing of Gazeta Wyborcza is that it's a rare example of a bestselling national newspaper that manages to keep its quality standards high. And employing great reporters giving them the chance to follow their own stories whenever they can helps in making the newspaper an interesting and widely appreciated one.
'White Fever' (Biała gorączka) is introduced to the international readers in its English translation as 'a journey to the frozen heart of Siberia', but it's much more than that. Jacek Hugo-Bader (JHB) will forgive me to state that his crazy driving trip through Siberia from Moscow to Vladivostok on a sturdy customised Lazhik jeep made in the USSR serves as an eye-catcher for those in the UK and the US who are unfamiliar with his foreign sounding and hyphened name. There is indeed very little of Jacek stubbornly driving his Lazhik to and through desolate Siberia in 'White Fever', to be precise these travelogue bits can be found from page 5 to 31 and from page 297 to 320. That's it.
You might wonder what did Jacek write from page 32 to 296 and the answer is: plenty of good stuff. With the pretext of waiting for his second-hand Lazhik to be given an extreme 'pimp my gear' treatment by Muscovite mechanics, say, Jacek Hugo-Bader delves into the very little known Russian hippy community delivering a poignant and hilarious dictionary of their jargon, history, personal stories and beliefs. And this is only the first tasty filling you can find inbetween the 'Siberian driving trip' slices of bread in the surprising flavourful sandwich made up by the Polish journalist.
If all that you know about Russian music doesn't get any further than the raucous chansonnier Vladimir Vysotsky or the thorny (for anoter Vladimir) balaclava-disguised Pussy Riots, Jacek here fills the gaps. Russian hip-hoppers, gangsta-rappers, anarcho-punks, Christian Orthodox rockers, neo Nazi metalheads: you name them and Hugo-Bader interviews them all in his own fashion.
Which brings us straight to a chief point: JHB's writing style. Unlike other contemporary Polish journalists I read and appreciated so far (chiefly Szczygiel, Stasiuk and Gorecki), Jacek Hugo-Bader puts much of himself in his interviews. I mean, he expresses his own opinions in a colourful no-nonsense way that might leave you surprised. I don't know how much of this attitude is genuine and how much is fabricated on editing but I'd daresay JHB is a honest guy.
Writing about an extremely delicate and emotionally touching subject like AIDS and the millions of Russian people infected by the HIV virus due to lack of information, appalling hygienical standards, drug abuse and what calling libertine sexual behaviors might be an euphemism, JHB doesn't beat around the bush. Interviewing 'Miss HIV' Svetlana chosen as the spokeperson for scores of Russian sieropositive youngsters, Hugo-Bader poses just the right questions but is not afraid to include personal remarks such as 'What arrogant bastards', 'Bloody hell!' or scolding Svetlana on her 'proudly telling' him about the 'sexual blitzkrieg' of her HIV-infected husband: 'Sveta, for God's sake!'. Now all this might sound out of place or even patronising but - as surprising as it might look - it works in drawing a portrait of Sveta as the actual person she is thus making the interview utterly engaging.
What follows are mesmerizing pages revolving around the semi-forgotten area of current Kazakhstan where Soviets detonated around 300 atomic bombs both underground and overground between the from 1947 to 1963 keeping the local populace there as guinea pigs. As you might wonder, this is another hard topic to write about involving poor, unemployed and desperate people who have been falling ill and dying by infinite variations of devastating cancer for fifty years. Hugo-Bader is simply masterful here and this 'The Study Aids Store' is the best short reportage I read in a long while.
Far less convincing is the interview with Mikhail Kalashnikov the inventor of the infamous AK-47, the assault automatic rifle that killed millions in the hands of armies and terrorists alike since 1949. I had already read an interview with the same guy (who recently died) written by...David Remnick, I guess, but JHB by clearly showing his distaste for the - certainly distasteful - Russian engineer doesn't do a good job. True, at the time of the interview Mr Kalashnikov was a senile, full of himself jerk and Hugo-Bader lost his temper with his reticence, but I still believe something better could have been written.
The half-failure of Kalashnikov is more than balanced by the fantastic reportage entitled 'A small corner of Heaven' where JHB visits the community founded by one of the three Russian 'living Christs'. In their remote corner of Siberia, Vissarion and his thousands of acolytes have built up a self-sufficient religious community founded on the sometimes crazy (don't piss in the woods! It's forbidden) sometimes reasonable teachings of a former militiaman who discovered to be no other than Jesus Christ. Again, this reportage brought to my mind bits I had read before involving Mormons, Evangelicals and so called New Age communities (Tobias Jones, was that you?), but Hugo-Bader makes it pitch perfect.
To conclude with, just before the second slice of Transiberian bread there's the reportage providing the title to the whole book: 'White Fever'. I liked it and cared about the ill-fated Evenks people, but to be completely honest with you, I've found it a bit long-winded thus losing some of my interest at the end. The story of these Siberian herders who became relentless alcoholics self-destroying themselves in the process due to the low tolerance of alcohol within their organism is incredibly sad and moving, but the stratagem of the countdown used by JHB is ultimately too excruciating to bear.
Which reminds me that this review lasted for too long and it's high time to finish it.
Let me tell you this: if I were you, I would go to the nearest bookshop, look for 'White Fever', buy it and read it. If you live in Poland that is incredibly easy to do. Just hope that your copy of 'Biała gorączka' is not on the topshelf. But I guess you're likely to be taller than me or at least with a better command of the Polish language. (less)
Pets and other animals talking about the bestialities of human communism in the former Eastern Bloc countries. A well-do...moreWhat a great idea for a book!
Pets and other animals talking about the bestialities of human communism in the former Eastern Bloc countries. A well-documented and often entertaining approach to well known and less well known facts that truly happened from East Berlin to Moscow passing through Budapest, Prague, Warsaw, Bucarest.
Giving voice to mice and cats, dogs and bears, ravens and parrots with each animal talking about its own country was indeed a work of genius. Most of those who reviewed this book mentioned either the 'Orwellian approach' or the ' Orwellian inspiration' of Mrs Drakulic, but I think otherwise. She's truly original and independent in her own work here so that the comparison with the author of 'Animal Farm' doesn't stand a chance. To me the closest this book gets to is rather 'The Life of Insects' by Victor Pelevin. But then again, unlike Pelevin, Drakulic doesn't insist on metaphors and camouflages: her animals are actual animals from the beginning to the end of their chapters (with one significant exception). Well done, Slavenka!
And yet 'A Guided Tour Through the Museum of Communism' (let me catch my breathe) falls short of what I expected. Whilst I did appreciate some of the episodes, others were just not at the same level and, in my humble opinion, out of place in the context.
I particularly liked the stories of the mole talking about people digging tunnels from East Berlin to West Berlin, the one about the rabid dogs issue in Bucarest seen from a canine perspective and the musings of General Jaruzelski's pussycat regarding her owner's controversial decisions. One of the reasons why these three 'fables' really work and stand out here is that they achieve a perfect balance between the human-animal narrative and their historical significance.
On the contrary I found unexplicable the choice to have a real woman, Magda, introducing herself as a 'Hungarian pig' in the chapter entitled - sic! - 'From Gulag to Goulash'*. Putting aside the non convincing story itself, why not giving voice to an actual sow? Was that too complicated? The contradiction here with this one and only episode not being narrated by an animal is so evident that I'm inclined to think that Mrs Drakulic did that on purpose. But for what purpose, I wonder? Who knows.
The human-animal denouement is not broken anywhere else, but a couple of stories are just too long a monologue to be consistent (Tito's parrot, the chaperoning mouse in Prague) with the final result of putting their interesting animal perspective at risk with the author's voice popping up.
That being said, I reckon how Slavenka Drakulic did a good job here. I got hooked to this thin but important book and overall enjoyed it. The fables I read taught me some episodes I was not aware of and reinforced my knowledge of other topics I had already heard about.
*The tragedy is that back on 1996 the uncouth leader of the Northern League Party in Italy did call the gulags 'goulash' in a public speech.(less)
I've never been a great reader of poetry, but these nice little poems are helping me out with my Polish vocabulary and understanding.
Some composition...moreI've never been a great reader of poetry, but these nice little poems are helping me out with my Polish vocabulary and understanding.
Some compositions remind me of Szymborska in their apparent simplicity wondering on everyday's life and tiny but significant details, but Anna Swir (Świrszczyńska) deals with post WWII feelings and family as well, focusing on her father who was a painter. Both topics are found in the poem I liked the most, so far. It's entitled 'He Did Not Jump from the Third Floor' and reads like this in English translation.
The second World War Warsaw. Tonight they dropped bombs on the Theatre Square.
At the Theatre Square Father has his workshop. All paintings, labor of forty years.
Next morning father went to the Theatre Square. He saw.
His workshop has no ceiling, has no walls no floor.
Father did not jump from the third floor. Father started over from the beginning.
Bless Miłosz who translated Swir into English (taking some liberties in metric) as well as the publisher who kept the original text in this edition. And thank you to the second hand bookseller in Krakow who found this little gem for me when asked if he had anything in English (this book was the one and only)!(less)
I'd like to be indulgent with Stefan Grabiński . For he deserves that. For writing the sort of fiction he delivered in his time and place wasn't easy...moreI'd like to be indulgent with Stefan Grabiński . For he deserves that. For writing the sort of fiction he delivered in his time and place wasn't easy at all, as you will read soon.
The eleven short stories you can find in 'The Dark Domain' are only a tiny fraction of what Grabiński published in his native Poland including five novels and five works for theatre.
And yet, it's with short stories that pan Grabiński briefly touched fame during his short and unfortunate lifetime. And what short stories, I say!
Don't believe Wikipedia and the blurbs: Grabiński is neither the Polish Edgar Allan Poe nor the Polish H.P. Lovecraft. What we have here is odd but fascinating material which might sometimes bear a resemblance or two to other authors but, in fact, doesn't look like anything else that I've read before.
As simple as it sounds, Stefan Grabiński was and still is just the Polish Grabiński. And if that doesn't seem like much to you, please give 'The Dark Domain' a go and I bet you'll understand what I mean.
The quality of Mr Grabiński was that the short stories he wrote between the 1910s and the 1920s were something completely different from what the Polish audience was looking and asking for. Whereas his compatriots revered the historical novels by Sinkiewicz and the neoromantic books by Zeromski, Grabiński didn't publish anything of that sort. At the contrary, he created his own literary (and, alas, unfashionable) genre by putting sinister and introspective short stories in a modern framework.
Only a few of the eleven short stories included in 'The Dark Domain' have a gothic flavour ('A Tale of the Gravedigger', 'Fumes') imbibed in traditional folklore revisited, but most of them will surprise you with either a philosophical or a sensual twist. Grabiński and his characters are clearly fascinated by the wonders of progress - and particularly by trains - but modernity in itself is not a bulletproof shelter against the wicked acts of evil. Well, in fact, quite the opposite.
What astonished me reading this collection is how explicit and sexually detailed Grabiński could be in a time in which Poland was a puritan and a conservative country. To be honest with you a short story like 'In the Compartment' reads more like a chapter of a steamy softcore novel (enters saxophone) than something written by an author devoted to creepy tales. Striking a similar note, 'Szamota's Mistress' is stalking ante-litteram with plenty of frustrated libido to make the readers feel queasy. There's sex, then. And there's even some powerful and rather vivid transgender stuff in 'Fumes'. But to me the mastery of Grabiński lies elsewhere.
Even though daring experimental short stories such as 'Strabismus', 'Saturnin Sektor' and 'The Motion Demon' are very good and will implore for a second reading to be fully appreciated, it's 'Vengeance of the Elementals' that struck me dead. Did you ever watch 'Howl's Moving Castle' by Miyazaki? Well, if you did think about the demon of fire depicted by the Japanese master, imagine it evil and call it an elemental. This story of a hero of a fireman turned an arsonist due to the fire elementals ensnaring him is as scary as engrossing.
There's this famous Italian comic series called 'Dylan Dog' and dealing with horror stories that I read when I was a teenager. If I had to tell what reading Grabiński reminded me of, I would say that it's the scripts of some of the best episodes of 'Dylan Dog'. Just don't call poor pan Stefan the Polish 'Nightmares Investigator' as that womaziner of a Dylan Dog introduced himself.
It's time to give Grabiński some justice, in Poland and abroad. Speaking of which, please translate into English more of his short stories!(less)
Over the last five years I became a great fan of Polish journalism so that every time I skim through bookshelves labelled 'travels' or 'reportages' I...moreOver the last five years I became a great fan of Polish journalism so that every time I skim through bookshelves labelled 'travels' or 'reportages' I hunt for that bunch of authors I know or for any Polish sounding surname. That's how I 'discovered' Tochman and Stasiuk, for instance. And that's how Wojciech Górecki showed up with two books he wrote, one about Caucasus as a whole and this one about Georgia.
Now, the only Górecki I knew was the composer Henryk whose Third Symphony became an unusual worldwide hit in the mid 1990s. The unexpected success for the Polish composer came thanks to the British trip hop band Lamb who sampled a tiny bit of it in their aptly titled song Górecki back in 1996. (I didn't like that song as well as the symphony).
Wojciech Górecki is not related to Henryk. The Italian edition I bought calls Górecki 'the heir of Ryszard Kapuscinski' and Wojciech himself dedicates 'La terra del vello d'oro' ('The Land of the Golden Fleece') to the great Polish reporter.
Are there similarities in writing style and reporting approach between Kapuscinski and Górecki? To be honest I couldn't find many. The dean of Polish reportage liked to write about his own personal daily experiences living in foreign countries and stressing out his fascination for everything local and his distaste for the spoiled reporters gossiping from their five starred resorts. The young dauphin prefers to draw sketches of what he sees around him keeping himself as humble as Kapuscinski but standing more in the background than him.
The Georgia portrayed and narrated by Górecki in the early 2000s was not at war, for the time being. This state of temporary, if apparent, serenity lets the Polish reporter tell the reader about the country's turbulent history, its unique traditions, its multi-layered character. For someone like me who didn't know much about Georgia having read only a single book marginally dealing with it and dating back to the 1960s ('Journey into Russia' by Laurens Van der Post), Górecki's book brought a gust of fresh and precious knowledge.
Even though forty years have passed from Van der Post being invited to a lavish Georgian banquet and writing about its peculiar etiquette, I was happy to read that Górecki experienced the same hospitality and jotted down similar observations. The pages regarding the towerhouses dating back to the 13th century that are still inhabited in some remote and beautiful regions of Georgia are excellent and reminded me of the Albanian towerhouses depicted by Kadare in his novels. Which was a delightful deja-vu.
Whereas the book is thin and somewhat disjointed, it is also very informative and a pleasure to read. My only criticism is that the last chapter might have been placed at the beginning of 'La terra del vello d'oro' as it's extremely helpful in contextualize Georgia and its debated regions such as Abkhazia, South and North Ossetia. But this is only a minor detail. Even though I'd be more careful to call Wojciech Górecki the heir of Ryszard Kapuscinski, I'm certainly eager to read that second book by him that I bought for he knows his topics well and is a brilliant reporter. (less)
A few years ago I listened in awe to an excerpt from 'Another Day of Life' on an Italian online radio focused on books. As those pages revolving aroun...moreA few years ago I listened in awe to an excerpt from 'Another Day of Life' on an Italian online radio focused on books. As those pages revolving around a sieged Luanda were beautiful and poignant, I got interested in adding up another Kapuscinski to my increasing lot.
Then I moved abroad and as I had read all of my Kapuscinskis in Italian translation purchasing one of his books in English didn't seem quite right. Back to Italy for a stopover inbetween the UK and Poland I've finally bought the long-awaited book and promptly started to read it.
Now that I'm done with 'Another Day of Life' I must confess that I'm slightly disappointed by it. Unlike what happens in most of the reportage books by Kapuscinski, here I felt like something crucial was missing: clarity. The reasons and the main forces behind the Civil War (following a long Independence War) in Angola the great Polish reporter followed and lived in during the 1970s are - to say the least - blurred and confusing for the readers of today.
In this respect I feel very much like your average Mr Brown / Kowalski / Rossi here. I know where Angola is. I know the country used to be a Portuguese 'colony' and that was shamelessly used for centuries as a slave market. I've even heard that Luanda today is one of the most expensive cities in the world with the greatest gap you can imagine between wealthy nababs and poor locals. A Portuguese friend of mine told me that to many unemployed compatriots of his, Angola looks like the promised land, an Eldorado of easy (and often dirty) money. This way, scores of Portuguese people migrated to the former colony looking for a job they cannot find at home. So much for the ups and downs of history!
This is what an average reader buying 'Another Day of Life' by Kapuscinski might already know about Angola. The problem is that chances are the same Mr Brown / Kowalski / Rossi doesn't know anything at all about Angola between the 1960s and the 1970s. That's why I would have liked more explanations from dear old Ryszard concerning the purpose of and the difference between combatants belonging to MPLA, UNITA, FNLA and FLEC. Unluckily Kapuscinsky - unlike what he did when writing about, say, Rwanda or Iran - relies too much on what his readers know about the whole bloody conflict in this book.
That's why I struggled with some parts of this book especially those in which the reporter goes to 'the front' where he meets up with Cuban soldiers dispatched to Angola by the Castro regime to give military support to one of the sides involved and faces South African forces deployed there for the same reason.
This criticism of mine doesn't affect the fact that Kapuscinski is always fantastic to read and that the pages about life in Luanda are magnificent and cliffhanging. There is also an interesting and heartbraking insight on a supposedly minor character like the young female soldier Carlotta whose death makes the Polish reporter wonder about the foolishness of a war where there cannot ultimately be any actual winner. (less)