In This Review


By Ryszard Kapuscinski

Alfred A. Knopf, 1994, 331 pp.

Kapu'sci'nski is a poet masquerading as a journalist. Thus, these sketches from three encounters with the Soviet Union -- one as a boy living through the Soviet occupation of his Polish hometown in the first year of World War II, the second a quarter of a century later as a traveling journalist, and the third during the country's last two years as a witness who could not resist being there -- are pure art. Not a set of essays, and even less a detailed assessment of the reality he encounters, they convey an essence through brilliantly simple word pictures. A child in Siberia explains with polite superiority what "great cold" is, something obviously beyond his experience: "One can recognize [it] by the bright, shining mist that hangs in the air. When a person walks, a corridor forms in this mist. The corridor has the shape of that person's silhouette."

Because in 1967 and then again in 1990-91 he visited much more than the Russian heartland, traveling throughout the Caucasus, Central Asia, and the depths of Siberia, by the end of the book the reader has accumulated rich, indelible impressions. The prose is magnificent, splendidly translated by Klara Glowczewska. So good is the writing, so universal the minor philosophical reflections, and so frequent the laugh-out-loud humor that this book is worth reading even for someone who could care less about the subject.