I love the Penguin Celebrations series. With this latest acquisition, I now have sixteen out of thirty-six, which is not bad, and every single one I have read has been enjoyable. This one is from the travel and adventure range and is a series of dispatches from Africa written by the Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski. Arriving in Ghana in 1957, when many African countries were just throwing off the shackles of colonialism, his reports cover a range of countries in sub-Saharan Africa from the 1950s to the 1990s and is as much of a love letter to Africa and it's people as it is a travel journal.
Kapuscinski has the good fortune to often be in the right place at the right time. He witnesses a coup in Zanzibar, the action of child soldiers in Liberia, another coup in Nigeria, meets key players such as Mugabe and generally witnesses history in the making. His constant quest to experience the 'real' Africa and not remain sheltered in European areas makes for some dangerous episodes too; at times you feel as though you could be reading the plot for the next Indiana Jones film. Kapuscinki also catches a nasty bout of malaria and when he refuses to go back to Europe, he contracts TB, which almost kills him. He drives head first through a herd of buffalo on the Serengeti plains, gets caught in a monsoon storm whilst trying to escape in a small boat off the coast of Zanzibar and becomes delirious with thirst when his truck breaks down in the middle of the Sahara desert.
These adventures add a bit of spice to his writing and keep the pace brisk. What I liked most about this book was the balance between factual reporting and personal impressions. Kapuscinski does give you the background on the political situations of each country, but he also writes about what it is like to be there in the blinding heat and describes as best he can his experiences with the local people and wildlife. This meant it wasn't unbiased reporting, but I very much enjoyed the personal touch as it gave me more of a sense of what Africa is like.
The writing itself was gorgeous too, and the love Kapuscinski felt for Africa came across in every sentence. I'm going to end this review with my favourite quote;
"More than anything, one is struck by the light. Light everywhere. Brightness everywhere. Everywhere, the sun."
Verdict: Engrossing travel journal of Africa during a momentous time in it's history. Recommended.
First Published: 1998
Score: 4 out of 5