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I see him now as he walks, stops, walks again, lifts his head upward as though absorbed in prayer. O God, save me from those who, crawling on their knees, hide a knife they would like to sink in my back. But how can God help? All the people surrounding the Emperor are just like that--on their knees, and with knives. It's never comfortable on the summits. An icy wind always blows, and everyone crouches, watchful lest his neighbor hurl him down the precipice.
Y.M., The Emperor



Mr. Kapuscinki is one of the more revered foreign correspondents of the past several decades, though he's also been criticized for perhaps getting the too perfect quote or being in the right place at the right time a tad too often to be believable. The Emperor was one of his first big hits and considered properly it may explain where the complaints come from. Though it ostensibly the story of the fall of Emperor Hailie Selassie, as told in a series of autonomous/pseudonymous interviews with palace staff and functionaries; it might more appropriately be read as a thinly-veiled message to his fellow Poles about the transitory nature and inherent weaknesses of tyrannical regimes. Note that the title and subtitle of the book--The Emperor: Downfall of an Autocrat--suggest the universality of the events related, rather than referring specifically to Ethiopia's experience.

In effect, it could be said that Mr. Kapuscinski aphoristically, sometimes almost poetically, makes the same points that F. A. Hayek made more prosaically in Road to Serfdom. For Mr. Kapuscinski's Emperor is defined by the closed nature of the circle within which he operates, with all decision-making coming from the top and honest information almost never traveling upwards to reach him. It is a world of fantasy, divorced from the nation, it's people, and the actual state of affairs on the ground. The sycophancy and abuse of power depicted here are by turns amusing and appalling, but always so absurd as to demonstrate that such a system can never work in the long run:
Amid all the people starving, missionaries and nurses clamoring, students rioting, and police cracking heads, His Serene Majesty went to Eritrea, where he was received by his grandson, Fleet Commander Eskinder Desta, with whom he intended to make an official cruise on the flagship Ethiopia. They could only manage to start one engine, however, and the cruise had to be called off. His Highness then moved on to the French ship Protet, where he was received on board for dinner by Hiele, the well-known admiral from Marseille. The next day, in the post of Massawa, His Most Ineffable Highness raised himself for the occasion to the rank of Grand Admiral of the Imperial Fleet, and made seven cadets officers, thereby increasing our naval power.
Or so it is necessary to maintain within the deeply delusional bubble of an autocracy.


(Reviewed:)

Grade: (A)

  

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Travel
Ryszard Kapuscinski Links:

    -OBIT: Ryszard Kapuscinski, Polish Writer of Shimmering Allegories and News, Dies at 74 (MICHAEL T. KAUFMAN, January 24, 2007, NY Times)
    -OBIT: War Correspondent, Author Ryszard Kapuscinski (Adam Bernstein, 1/25/07, Washington Post)
    -TRIBUTE: We Owe a Debt of Gratitude to Polish Communism (Alvaro Vargas Llosa, 31 Jan 2007, Tech Central Station)
    -TRIBUTE: Ryszard Kapuscinski (VERLYN KLINKENBORG, 2/02/07, NY Times)
    -OBIT: Ryszard Kapuscinski (Victoria Brittain, January 25, 2007, The Guardian)
    -OBIT: Remembrance: Ryszard Kapuscinski (Magdalena Rittenhouse, 1/28/07, The Nation)
    -ESSAY: The Lies of Ryszard Kapu?ci?ski: Or, if you prefer, the "magical realism" of the now-departed master (Jack Shafer, Jan. 25, 2007, Slate)
    -ESSAY: THE OPEN WORLD: A legendary travel writer’s first trip abroad. (RYSZARD KAPU?CI?SKI, The New Yorker)
    -EXCERPT: from Shadow of the Sun: Slaves of freedom: It was the promised land for black Americans, liberated from slavery. But 150 years laster Liberia has been destroyed by civil war. (Ryszard Kapuscinski, May 19, 2001, The Guardian)
    -EXCERPT: from Shadow of the Sun: Beginning, Ghana (Bold Type, Random House)
    -EXCERPT: Africa's Year of Coups and Crises (Ryszard Kapuscinski, Compass)
    -ESSAY: HERODOTUS AND THE ART OF NOTICING: adapted from a talk he gave to Lettre International in Berlin. (Ryszard Kapuscinski, NPQ) -ESSAY: The Station in Brest (Ryszard Kapuscinski, Brest Online)
    -INTERVIEW: 'An Interview by Bill Buford': Ryszard Kapuscinski (Bill Buford, Granta)
    -INTERVIEW: One World, Two Civilizations (NPQ, Spring 1986)
    -INTERVIEW: Ryszard Kapuscinski: Writing About Stuffering (Journal of the International Institute)
    -VIDEO INTERVIEW: Ryszard Kapuscinski (Roland Collection of Films & Video on Art)
    -ESSAY: The Lies of Ryszard Kapu?ci?ski: Or, if you prefer, the "magical realism" of the now-departed master (Jack Shafer, Jan. 25, 2007, Slate)
    -INTERVIEW: An Interview by Bill Buford: Ryszard Kapuscinski (Granta)
    -PROFILE: Among the Wretched (Geoff Dyer, May 3, 2002, LA Weekly)
    -PROFILE: Ryszard the lionheart: For more than 40 years, Ryszard Kapuscinski has been unravelling the complexities of Africa for Western readers. And his simple tip for surviving war and disaster? Don't eat anything cut with a knife (Tim Adams, May 20, 2001, The Observer)
    -PROFILE: Ryszard Kapuscinski (Polish Culture)
    -PROFILE: Reporter of the Century (Michael von Assel, CultureBase)
    -ARCHIVES: Ryszard Kapuscinski (Granta)
    -Ryszard Kapuscinski (NedWeb)
    -PROFILE: World Press Review - People - Ryszard Kapuscinski
    -ESSAY: Ryszard Kapuscinski's Soccer War and Existential Journalism (Petri Raivio, November, 2002)
    -ESSAY: Truth is another country: Literature is created on both sides of the frontier that divides fact from fiction, and it is crossed by writers quite casually. (Timothy Garton Ash, November 16, 2002, The Guardian )
    -ARCHIVES: The New York Review of Books: Ryszard Kapuscinski
    -ARCHIVES: Ryszard Kapuscinski (Find Articles)
    -REVIEW: of The Shadow of the Sun by Ryszard Kapuscinski (Complete Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Shadow of the Sun (Richard Bernstein, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of The Shadow of the Sun (William Finnegan, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Shadow of the Sun (Geoff Dyer, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Shadow of the Sun? (Ian Jack, The Observer)
    -REVIEW: of Shadow of the Sun (JOHN RYLE, Times Literary Supplement)
    -REVIEW: of Shadow of the Sun (Robert Oakeshott, Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of Shadow of the Sun (The Economist)
    -REVIEW: of Shadow of the Sun (Chris Morris, LA Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Shadow of the Sun (Aleksandar Hemon, Village Voice) -REVIEW: of Shadow of the Sun (John Freeman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
    -REVIEW: of Shadow of the Sun (Aaron McCarroll Gallegos, Sojourners)
    -REVIEW: of Shadow of the Sun (Frank Bures, Powells.com)
    -REVIEW: of The Soccer War by Ryszard Kapuscinski (Andrew J. Pierre, Foreign Affairs)
    -REVIEW: of IMPERIUM By Ryszard Kapuscinski (ALEX FINLAYSON, Eye)
    -REVIEW: of Ryszard Kapu?ci?ski, The Shadow of the Sun (John Ryle, Times Literary Supplement)

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