Shadow of the Sun [NOOK Book]

Overview

Ryszard Kapuscinski arrived in Africa in 1957, at the beginning of the end of colonial rule––the “sometimes dramatic and painful, sometimes enjoyable and jubilant” rebirth of a continent. The Shadow of the Sun sums up the author’s experiences (“the record of a forty-year marriage”) in this place that became the central obsession of his remarkable career.
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Shadow of the Sun

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Overview

Ryszard Kapuscinski arrived in Africa in 1957, at the beginning of the end of colonial rule––the “sometimes dramatic and painful, sometimes enjoyable and jubilant” rebirth of a continent. The Shadow of the Sun sums up the author’s experiences (“the record of a forty-year marriage”) in this place that became the central obsession of his remarkable career.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Among his fellow journalists, Ryszard Kapuscinski has earned the reputation of being in all the wrong places at just the right times. "If Kapuscinski was there," wrote Stephen Schiff enviously, "you knew the pot was about to boil over." His first landing in tropical Africa was typically momentous: He arrived in 1957, "the great year" in which Ghana's independence sparked independence movements around the continent. The Polish foreign correspondent has returned to sub-Saharan Africa numerous times, traveling extensively, conscientiously avoiding palace receptions and self-congratulatory ministers. Readers of his Imperium and The Soccer War will expect what others will discover: Kapuscinski's reportage borders on great literature.
Patrick Smith
Ryszard Kapuscinski's The Shadow of the Sun is a wise, engaging close-up filled with faces, landscapes, rutted roads, and the daily perils of African life.
Business Week
Richard Bernstein
The penetrating intelligence of Kapuscinski's vision and his knack for a kind of crystallized descriptive writing have never been on better display . . . densely eventful vignettes from his 40 years of experience in Africa.
New York Times
Brad Wieners
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.
Ian Jack
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.
Keith Wilson
Kapuscinski doesn't just 'cover' Africa—he knows it. His perspective is both vast and uniquely informed.
Anthony Daniels
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.
Jeremy Harding
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.
Anthony Sattin
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.
Will Cohu
An elliptical picture of African life that is intellectually acute and emotionally rich.
Geoff Dyer
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.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Colorful writing and a deep intelligence highlight these essays' graceful exploration of postcolonial Africa. A Polish journalist who has written about the continent for more than three decades, Kapuscinski provides glimpses into African life far beyond what has been covered in headlines or in most previous books on the subject. The dispatches focus on the awkward relationship between Europe and Africa. Kapuscinski, whose books have been translated into 19 languages (they include The Emperor and The Soccer War), makes this clear through his own personal struggle with malaria soon after he first arrived on the continent. This emphasis also comes through in his dispatches on African nations such as Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania and Rwanda, which detail how the giddy optimism of the immediate postcolonial era disintegrated into corruption, poverty and conflict. But even as he describes a familiar story, his keen observations make it fresh. Writing about the provincialism of Rwanda, he says, "A trip round the world is a journey from backwater to backwater, each of which considers itself... a shining star." But political observations are just one of the strengths of this book. Kapuscinski's seemingly effortless writing style makes daily life come alive whether he's covering an Arab vendor making coffee or the efforts made at night by lizards to catch their mosquito prey. (The lizards' "eyes are capable of 180-degree rotation within their sockets, like the telescopes of astronomers....") Ultimately, this book is a personal and political travelogue of one man's rocky love affair with a continent of nations. Those looking for an engaging, literary introduction to Africa or even for some additional knowledge should look no further. (Apr.) Forecast: Kapuscinski is a very popular writer in Europe but has never broken out here. With a cluster of books on Africa coming out this season, this will get some media attention and may sell better than his previous books. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A wrenching, poignant portrait of Africa and Africans by a Polish journalist who first visited the continent in 1957. Kapuscinski (Imperium, 1994, etc.) displays uncommon courage and compassion in this account of his half-century of experiences in Africa. He begins with this observation: "The continent is too large to describe. It is a veritable ocean, a separate planet, a varied, immensely rich cosmos." Yet he succeeds. The volume has a loose chronology (starting with Ghana's independence in the mid-1950s, ending on a dark Christmas Eve in the 1990s when a wild elephant disrupts an outdoor party), but Kapuscinski's observations are not bound by time: He allows his prose to flow freely through decades and across boundaries of place and culture. Deftly, he employs the keen edge of anecdote to make his incisions in the ignorance and complacency of the rest of the world. He is a superior teacher. We learn about an African conception of time: "Time appears as a result of our actions, and vanishes when we neglect or ignore it." We learn that wildlife includes not only elephants and lions (it is only the old, slow ones that will deign to eat humans) but also the myriads of plants and insects that have no names. (One night he shares a room with roaches the size of small turtles.) We see the unspeakable poverty (a woman cries in the street: someone has stolen her only possession, a bowl) and experience violence so barbarous as to make one ashamed of humanity. His chapter on Rwanda—clear, unbearable in intensity—is a small masterpiece. Kapuscinski does not neglect the beautiful, the miraculous. He describes a visit to central Ethiopia where 11 medieval churches werebuilt below ground level. He provides lyrical descriptions of mountains and plains—and of heat so intense that it causes minds to retreat into stupor. A book of many wonders, of unfathomable sadness, of intense quiet and quick violence, of greed and grandeur, of illuminations blindingly bright.
From the Publisher
“A highly detailed, heartfelt, but unsentimental introduction to Africa’s afflictions and a quiet love song to its profound appeal.” —The Wall Street Journal, Ryszard Kapuscinski (Author of The Emperor)

"The penetrating intelligence of Mr. Kapuscinski's vision and his knack for a kind of crystallized descriptive writing have never been on better display. . . . A marvel of humane, sorrowful and lucid observation." —The New York Times

“[Kapuscinski] has explored that sliver of high, thinly populated ground on which journalism and literature are occasionally joined. . . . A wise, engaging close-up filled with faces, landscapes, rutted roads, and the daily perils of African life." —BusinessWeek

“[Kapuscinski's] great strengths are his style--candid, understated and slightly absurdist, veering into abrupt flights of lyricism on unexpected subjects--and his gift for picking out stories, that condense volumes of information into a single perfectly crafted passage." —The Washington Post

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375413452
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/5/2001
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 191,993
  • File size: 463 KB

Meet the Author

Ryszard Kapuscinski was born in 1932. During four decades reporting on Asia, Latin America and Africa, he befriended Che Guevera, Salvador Allende and Patrice Lumumba. He witnessed 27 coups and revolutions and was sentenced to death four times. His books have been translated into nineteen languages.


From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Read an Excerpt

The Beginning:

Collision, Ghana, 1958

More than anything, one is struck by the light. Light everywhere. Brightness everywhere. Everywhere, the sun. Just yesterday, an autumnal London was drenched in rain. The airplane drenched in rain. A cold wind, darkness. But here, from the morning's earliest moments, the airport is ablaze with sunlight, all of us in sunlight.

In times past, when people wandered the world on foot, rode on horseback, or sailed in ships, the journey itself accustomed them to the change. Images of the earth passed ever so slowly before their eyes, the stage revolved in a barely perceptible way. The voyage lasted weeks, months. The traveler had time to grow used to another environment, a different landscape. The climate, too, changed gradually. Before the traveler arrived from a cool Europe to the burning Equator, he already had left behind the pleasant warmth of Las Palmas, the heat of Al-Mahara, and the hell of the Cape Verde Islands.

Today, nothing remains of these gradations. Air travel tears us violently out of snow and cold and hurls us that very same day into the blaze of the tropics. Suddenly, still rubbing our eyes, we find ourselves in a humid inferno. We immediately start to sweat. If we've come from Europe in the wintertime, we discard overcoats, peel off sweaters. It's the first gesture of initiation we, the people of the North, perform upon arrival in Africa.

People of the North. Have we sufficiently considered the fact that northerners constitute a distinct minority on our planet? Canadians and Poles, Lithuanians and Scandinavians, some Americans and Germans, Russians and Scots, Laplanders and Eskimos, Evenkis and Yakuts—the list is not very long. It may amount to no more than 500 million people: less than 10 percent of the earth's population. The overwhelming majority live in hot climates, their days spent in the warmth of the sun. Mankind first came into being in the sun; the oldest traces of his existence have been found in warm climes. What was the weather like in the biblical paradise? It was eternally warm, hot even, so that Adam and Eve could go about naked and not feel chilled even in the shade of a tree.

Something else strikes the new arrival even as he descends the steps of the airplane: the smell of the tropics. Perhaps he's had intimations of it. It is the scent that permeated Mr. Kanzman's little shop, Colonial and Other Goods, on Perec Street in my hometown of Pi´nsk. Almonds, cloves, dates, and cocoa. Vanilla and laurel leaves, oranges and bananas, cardamom and saffron. And Drohobych. The interiors of Bruno Schulz's cinammon shops? Didn't their "dimly lit, dark, and solemn interiors" smell intensely of paints, lacquer, incense, the aroma of faraway countries and rare substances? Yet the actual smell of the tropics is somewhat different. We instantly recognize its weight, its sticky materiality. The smell makes us at once aware that we are at that point on earth where an exuberant and indefatigable nature labors, incessantly reproducing itself, spreading and blooming, even as it sickens, disintegrates, festers, and decays.

It is the smell of a sweating body and drying fish, of spoiling meat and roasting cassava, of fresh flowers and putrid algae—in short, of everything that is at once pleasant and irritating, that attracts and repels, seduces and disgusts. This odor will reach us from nearby palm groves, will escape from the hot soil, will waft above stagnant city sewers. It will not leave us; it is integral to the tropics.

And finally, the most important discovery—the people. The locals. How they fit this landscape, this light, these smells. How they are as one with them. How man and environment are bound in an indissoluble, complementary, and harmonious whole. I am struck by how firmly each race is grounded in the terrain in which it lives, in its climate. We shape our landscape, and it, in turn, molds our physiognomy. Among these palm trees and vines, in this bush and jungle, the white man is a sort of outlandish and unseemly intruder. Pale, weak, his shirt drenched with sweat, his hair pasted down on his head, he is continually tormented by thirst, and feels impotent, melancholic. He is ever afraid: of mosquitoes, amoebas, scorpions, snakes—everything that moves fills him with fear, terror, panic.

With their strength, grace, and endurance, the indigenous move about naturally, freely, at a tempo determined by climate and tradition, somewhat languid, unhurried, knowing one can never achieve everything in life anyway, and besides, if one did, what would be left over for others?

I've been here for a week. I am trying to get to know Accra. It is like an overgrown small town that has reproduced itself many times over, crawled out of the bush, out of the jungle, and come to a halt at the shores of the Gulf of Guinea. Accra is flat, single-storied, humble, though there are some buildings with two or more floors. No sophisticated architecture, no excess or pomp. Ordinary plaster, pastel-colored walls—pale yellow, pale green. The walls have numerous water stains. Fresh ones. After the rainy season, entire constellations of stains appear, collages, mosaics, fantastical maps, flowery flourishes. The downtown is densely built up. Traffic, crowds, bustle—life takes place out in the street. The street is a roadway delineated on both sides by an open sewer. There are no sidewalks. Cars mingle with the crowds. Everything moves in concert—pedestrians, automobiles, bicycles, carts, cows, and goats. On the sides, beyond the sewer, along the entire length of the street, domestic scenes unfold. Women are pounding manioc, baking taro bulbs over the coals, cooking dishes of one sort or another, hawking chewing gum, crackers, and aspirin, washing and drying laundry. Right out in the open, as if a decree had been issued commanding everyone to leave his home at 8 a.m. and remain in the street. In reality, there is another reason: apartments are small, cramped, stuffy. There is no ventilation, the atmosphere inside is heavy, the smells stale, there is no air to breathe. Besides, spending the day in the street enables one to participate in social life. The women talk nonstop, yell, gesticulate, laugh. Standing over a pot or a washbasin, they have an excellent vantage point. They can see their neighbors, passersby, the entire street; they can listen in on quarrels and gossip, observe accidents. All day long they are among others, in motion, and in the fresh air.

A red Ford with a speaker mounted on its roof passes through the streets. A hoarse, penetrating voice invites people to attend a meeting. The main attraction will be Kwame Nkrumah—Osagyefo, the prime minister, the leader of Ghana, of Africa, of all downtrodden peoples. There are photographs of Nkrumah everywhere—in the newspapers (every day), on posters, on flags, on ankle-length percale skirts. The energetic face of a middle-aged man, either smiling or serious, at an angle meant to suggest that he is contemplating the future.

"Nkrumah is a savior!" a young teacher named Joe Yambo tells me with rapture in his voice. "Have you heard him speak? He sounds like a prophet!"

Yes, in fact, I had heard him. He arrived at the stadium with an entourage of his ministers—young, animated, they created the impression of people who were having a good time, who were full of joy. The ceremony began with priests pouring bottles of gin over the podium—it was an offering to the gods, a way of making contact with them, a plea for their favor, their goodwill. Among the adults in the audience there were also children, from infants strapped to their mothers' backs, to babies beginning to crawl, to toddlers and school-age children. The older ones take care of the younger ones, and those older ones are taken care of by ones older still. This hierarchy of age is strictly observed, and obedience is absolute. A four-year-old has full authority over a two-year-old, a six-year-old over a four-year-old. Children take care of children, so that the adults can devote themselves to their affairs—for instance, to listening carefully to Nkrumah.

Osagyefo spoke briefly. He said that the most important thing was to gain independence—everything else would follow naturally, all that is good would emerge from the very fact of independence.

A portly fellow, given to decisive gestures, he had shapely, expressive features and large, lively eyes, which moved over the sea of dark heads with an attention so concentrated as to suggest he wanted to count each and every one of them.

After the rally, those on the podium mingled with the audience. It was loud, chaotic, and there was no visible police protection or escort. Joe, who had brought me, elbowed his way toward a young man (whom he identified as a minister) and asked him if I could come see him tomorrow. The other one, not really able to hear over the buzz and commotion what the issue was, replied, at least partially to get rid of us, "Fine! Fine!"

The next day, I found my way to the Ministry of Education and Information, a new building set amid a growth of royal palms. It was Friday. On Saturday, sitting in my small hotel, I wrote a description of the preceding day:

The way is open: neither policeman, nor secretary, nor doors.

I draw aside a patterned curtain and enter. The minister's office is warm. In semidarkness, he is standing at his desk organizing his papers: crumpling those he will throw into the wastepaper basket, smoothing out others to place in his briefcase. A thin, slight figure, in a sports shirt, short trousers, sandals, with a flowery kente cloth draped over his left shoulder; nervous gestures.

This is Kofi Baako, minister of education and information.

At thirty-two, he is the youngest minister in Ghana, in the entire British Commonwealth, and he has already had his portfolio for three years now. His office is on the third floor of the ministry building. The hierarchy of positions is reflected in the ladder of floors. The higher the personage, the higher the floor. Fittingly, since on top there is a breeze, while toward the bottom the air is heavy as stone, motionless. Petty bureaucrats suffocate on the ground floor; above them, the departmental directors enjoy a slight draft; and at the very top, the delicious breeze caresses the ministers.

Anyone who wants to can come and see a minister whenever he wants to. If someone has a problem, he travels to Accra, finds out where, for instance, the minister of agriculture can be found. He goes to his office, parts the curtain, sits down, and sets forth in detail what's bothering him. If he doesn't find the official at the agency, he will find him at home—even better, because there he'll get a meal and something to drink. People felt a remoteness from the white administration. But now these are their own people, they don't have to feel inhibited. It's my government, so it must help me. If it's to help me, it has to know the situation. For it to know, I have to come and explain. It's best that I do this on my own, in person and direct.

There is no end of these supplicants.

"Good morning!" said Kofi Baako. "And where are you from?"

"From Warsaw."

"You know, I almost went there. I was traveling all over Europe: France, Belgium, England, Yugoslavia. I was in Czechoslovakia, about to go to Poland, when Kwame sent me a telegram calling me back for the party congress, our ruling Convention People's Party."

We were sitting at a table, in his doorless office. Instead of window panes there were shutters with widely spaced slats, through which a gentle breeze passed. The small room was piled high with papers, files, brochures. A large safe stood in a corner, several portraits of Nkrumah hung on the walls, a speaker wired to a central system stood on a shelf. Tomtoms pounded from it, until finally Baako turned it off.

I wanted him to tell me about himself, about his life. Baako enjoys great prestige among the young. They like him for being a good athlete. He plays soccer, cricket, and is Ghana's Ping-Pong champion.

"Just a minute," he interrupted, "I just have to place a call to Kumasi, because I'm going there tomorrow for a game."

He called the post office for them to connect him. They told him to wait.

"I saw two films yesterday," he told me, as he waited, holding the receiver to his ear. "I wanted to see what they're showing. They're playing films schoolchildren shouldn't go to. I must issue a decree that forbids young people to see such things. And this morning I spent visiting book stalls throughout the city. The government has established low prices for schoolbooks, but the word is that retailers are marking them up. I went to check for myself. Indeed, they are selling them for more than they're supposed to."

He dialed the post office again.

"Listen, what are you so busy with over there? How long am I supposed to wait? Do you know who this is?"

A woman's voice answered, "No."

"And who are you?" Baako asked.

"I'm the telephone operator."

"And I am the minister of education and information, Kofi Baako."

"Good morning, Kofi! I'll connect you right away."

And he was talking to Kumasi.

I looked at his books, stacked on a small cabinet: Hemingway, Lincoln, Koestler, Orwell, The Popular History of Music, The American Dictionary, as well as various paperbacks and crime novels.

"Reading is my passion. In England I bought myself the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and now I'm reading it little by little. I cannot eat without reading, I have to have a book lying open in front of me."

A moment later:

"I've got another, even greater hobby: photography. I take pictures all the time and everywhere. I have more than ten cameras. When I go to a store and see a new camera, I immediately have to buy it. I bought a film projector for the children, and show them films in the evening."

He has four children, ranging in age from three to nine. All of them attend school, even the youngest. It is not unusual here for a three-year-old to be enrolled in school. The mother will send him off, especially if he's a handful, just to have some peace.

Kofi Baako himself first went to school at three. His father was a teacher and liked being able to keep his eye on his children. When he finished elementary school, he was sent for high school to Cape Coast. He became a teacher, and then a civil servant. At the end of 1947, Nkrumah had returned to Ghana having finished university studies in America and England. Baako listened to his speeches, which spoke of independence. Then Baako wrote an article, "My Hatred of Imperialism." He was fired from his job. He was blacklisted, and no one would employ him. He hung around the city, eventually meeting Nkrumah, who entrusted him with the position of editor in chief of the Cape Coast Daily Mail. Kofi was twenty years old.

He wrote another article entitled "We Call for Freedom," and was jailed. Arrested with him were Nkrumah and several other activists.They spent thirteen months behind bars, before finally being released. Today, this group constitutes Ghana's government.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2010

    The Shadow of the Sun- Outstanding! (:

    This book, The Shadow of the Sun, was amazing. What I loved most was having come upon an adventure through reading something I have never experienced before. I usually stick to the books that explore more modern day, instead of branching out to other ideas in different time periods. I am so glad I read this book because what I read was not something out of the ordinary but it showed different life styles around the world in different cultures. This book is set in 1957, where Ryszard Kapuscinski, even though there are others who travel, observes and writes about what he sees as an African correspondent. I loved the writers craft because of the deep intelligence to write as much as he did about so much. It is highly detailed and heartfelt; the author has explored the mountains of high, lightly populated ground where journalism and literature occur. It is a close-up that is filled with faces, landscapes, rutted roads, and the daily dangers of African life. 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. The author changes between plain imagery, using understatement to show easy stereotypes about Africa and Africans, and finishes with a paragraph with dazzling revelation that leaves you wanting more. This astonishing piece of work is something I would recommend to many people and hope they would enjoy it as much as I did.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 18, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Awseome read

    Kapuscinski is an awesome writer. The poetry of his writing is so absorbing and beautiful. If you have not discovered this book, you have not discovered the real Africa in all its differences and all its varied perspectives. It is so much more multi-dimentional than I had ever suspected, even after reading books like Kafir and Shaka Zulu - this book has opened up so much of the interior of the land and mind of Africa. His writing is so visible I feel like I was there on that incredible journey. Most impressive is his insight. Anything could have been revealed but in his highly speculative eyes, nothing was just as a fact - he saw so much more than many of us would have come away with and --- and this for a white Polish. Very unbiased exploration of the people and the land, credible and enlightening. Don't take my word for it - buy the book. Even if you don't care about the continent - the book does not take you down the usual path of the struggles of apartheid - it is something you feel, not a view being imparted by someone with the burden of a shared history with these people. I highly recommend this author. I also recommend his previous book, The Emporer, which I have been told is twice as great!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2003

    A Trip that Will Awe and Inspire

    This book encompasses many African countries which the author visits. The trip you feel you are taking along with him not only informs you about things perhaps you never knew existed, the conditions under which they live, the culture as it really is, but he is able to interject into some of the hairy experiences, humor and makes you laugh. While the overall content of the book is not meant to be humorous, he manages to find certain moments and lighten up the feeling you get of being mentally drained, tired and physically depleted. In the end, just like travelling to another country, you finish the book with a different, more informed perspective.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 26, 2001

    hard but amazing

    i have read this book in italian a year ago, and was amazed that it had not yet been translated into english. i have since then given it as a present to at least 15 friends/acquaintances. for the first time in my life i had the impression that some one had decided to tell the truth about africa, a truth that is so incredibly unpleasant and yet so extremely interesting. the experiences kapuszinsky shares are unique, have a very unusual 'cut' and are in some ways enlightning. i recommend this book to whoever is interested in learning about a continent but is not keen on fairy tales. this makes any other journalistic accounts that i have read of the events in question sound biased (and blush for naivity). a real tough eye-opener!

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