Friday, May 25, 2018

Book review: "The Shadow of the Sun" by Ryszard Kapuscinski

This book was unending in how interesting it was and how incredibly readable and approachable it is. If you were like me and thought "I should know more about African history, I wonder what I can read that won't be 600 pages and overly specific to a time period/place/topic" I can't recommend this book fast enough. I can't recommend this book fast enough, period. The author is obviously a journalist, his writing is simple and high impact and I loved it. (He talks about crossings were sometimes just a burned out shack and a bullet riddled sign and said - "The kinds of borders for which blood is spilled were still to come into being". He would get much scarier crossings later in this time there).

So the author of this book is a Polish journalist who is sent by his Polish newspaper to chase stories all over Africa in 1957. This is a huge deal because no Polish newspaper has ever done this before and he really wanted to succeed.

An interesting thing about timing, in the late 50s that's when a lot of the white colonial powers - mainly Britain- were finally exiting the continent and a lot of folks were very bitter that their departure had taken so long. This rang true with our Polish author who tried to tell people that "You were colonized? We, Poles, were also! For 130 years we were the colony of three foreign powers, all of them white!" But no one he spoke to believed him.

He focuses on his interaction with people mostly, but I learned some about animals too. Especially what happens to male lions after the age of about 20 - they get a little slower, drop out of their packs and eventually starts to hunt and eat humans since we are (surprise surprise) easier to catch then gazelles. They are desperate, which makes them even more terrifying than normal lions.

He talks about witnessing violent coups and government takeovers and marvels at how life resumes to normal in a short-ish period of time. People have grown used to it. (In regards to a coup in Nigeria in 1966- "in a country with a surface area 3 times that of Poland, inhabited by 56 million people, the coup was executed by an army numbering barely 8,000 soldiers").  He talks about the places in Africa where the slave traders landed and took off with their human cargo and how those places still felt like cursed, haunted places all of those years later. He talks about Idi Amin in one chapter, who just holds a weird fascination for me. He was ruthless and terrifying and his secret police rained terror down on people....annnnnnnd he also like to coordinate his outfits to the car he was driving that day. Not that that should surprise me, dictators are VAIN AS HELL.

Towards the end of his time in Africa, the 80s, a new scourge was making it's way across the country, not a vain dictator, not a child soldier army, not colonial powers from abroad....AIDS.

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