From: Biniam Tekle (email@example.com)
Date: Tue Mar 02 2010 - 10:53:24 EST
ace reporter Ryszard Kapuscinski accused of fiction-writing
New book claims journalist repeatedly crossed boundary between reportage and
The Guardian, Tuesday 2 March 2010
He has been voted the greatest journalist of the 20th century. In an
unparalleled career, Ryszard Kapuscinski transformed the humble job of
reporting into a literary art, chronicling the wars, coups and bloody
revolutions that shook Africa and Latin America in the 1960s and 70s.
But a new book claims that the legendary Polish journalist, who died three
years ago aged 74, repeatedly crossed the boundary between reportage and
fiction-writing – or, to put it less politely, made stuff up.
In a 600-page biography <http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/biography> of the
writer published in Poland
<http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/poland>yesterday, Artur Domoslawski
says Kapuscinski often strayed from the strict
rules of "Anglo-Saxon journalism". He was often inaccurate with details,
claiming to have witnessed events he was not present at. On other occasions,
Kapuscinski invented images to suit his story, departing from reality in the
interests of a superior aesthetic truth, Domoslawski claims.
Domoslawski told the Guardian: "Sometimes the literary idea conquered him.
In one passage, for example, he writes that the fish in Lake Victoria in
Uganda had grown big from feasting on people killed by Idi Amin. It's a
colourful and terrifying metaphor. In fact, the fish got larger after eating
smaller fish from the Nile."
He added: "Kapuscinski was experimenting in journalism. He wasn't aware he
had crossed the line between journalism and literature. I still think his
books are wonderful and precious. But ultimately, they belong to fiction."
On another occasion, the writer reported vividly on a massacre in Mexico in
1968. Although he was travelling in Latin America at the time, Kapuscinski
did not witness it, despite asserting "I was there", Domoslawski alleges.
The biographer, a correspondent with Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland's largest
paper, said he did not want to debunk Kapuscinski, whom he described as "my
mentor". Instead, he said, he sought to start a debate over the relationship
between truth and fiction, a biographer and his subject, and how far modern
Poland remained haunted by its communist past.
"I think my book is fair. The strange thing is I was writing with sympathy
about Kapuscinski. I wrote it with big empathy," he said. Kapuscinski's
widow's, Alicja, however, has violently objected to the biography, entitled
Kapuscinski Non Fiction. Last week she sought an injunction in Warsaw's
district court, arguing that the work damaged her late husband's reputation.
(Four previous biographies painted him in an entirely flattering light.)
The court rejected her request. It pointed out that she knew Domoslawski was
writing a biography and even allowed him to use Kapuscinski's private
archive. She has now appealed to the high court.
Domoslawski said he was baffled by her attempts to ban the book. The
biography includes only 17 pages that dwell on Kapuscinski's erotic
relationships with women and examines claims that he collaborated with
Born in Pinsk, in what is now Belarus, Kapuscinski embarked on a career in
journalism after university in Warsaw. In 1964 he became the only foreign
correspondent of the Polish Press Agency, and for the next 10 years he was
"responsible" for 50 countries. He travelled across the developing world
during the final stages of European colonialism, witnessing 27 revolutions
He kept two notebooks – one for recording mundane facts used in reports
relayed to Warsaw by telex, and another for impressionistic observations.
These were to form the basis for his highly acclaimed books, among them The
Soccer War, about the 1969 conflict between Honduras and El Salvador over a
pair of football matches, and The Emperor, a brilliant study of the
extraordinary and deranged Haile Selassie of Ethiopia. He also published
Imperium, arguably the best study ever written on the fall of the Soviet
Kapuscinski achieved worldwide fame only in his mid-40s, when his works were
translated into numerous languages and he was hailed by critics for his
miraculous synthesis of private experience with wider historical patterns.
Back at home Poles voted him journalist of the century.
Today Domoslawski said that Kapuscinski had not only delved into fiction on
many occasions, but had also mythologised his extraordinary life. "In part
of his literary work he was creating a legend of himself. I can understand
the reasons. If you come from a small country whose culture and language are
not understood abroad, you make your message stronger."
He said he got to know Kapuscinksi during the last nine years of the
writer's life. Domoslawski travelled extensively during the 1990s in Latin
America, an area in which he and Kapuscinski had a strong common interest.
The idea of writing a biography only came to him after the journalist's
death, he said.
"I would hesitate to call him my friend, since other people are entitled to
say they were better friends than I was, but Kapuscinski always treated me
as a kind of disciple," he said
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