Shah of Shahs by Ryszard Kapuściński
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Emperor is a bizarre and at time grotesquely comic portrait of the last Emperor of Ethiopia Haile Selassie. It is also a detail and evocative exploration of tyranny. Kapuscinki in a much more impressionistic mood details the rule and fall of another tyrant the last Shah of Iran in the Shah of Shahs. By focusing on tyrants of U.S. client states he uses a trick employed by other Iron Curtain writers (Ex. Kadare) to critique autocracy in genera,l as in general most dictatorships are the same whatever the ideological coloring. Both these texts are brutal, but starkly beautiful with fabulous impressionist writing that for all its dreamlike imagery and angular occurrences is filled with a passion for the innocents caught in the whims of brutal leaders and rebellions. Arguments can be made against these books as history and reportage, but as literature they remain luminous masterpieces, fluttering torches from the dark nights of the late 20th century. Kapuscinski writes in a mixture of tragedy, farce, poetry, whimsy, fantasy, and reportage, an impressionistic or surrealist tapestry of history that resonates with as much myth as headlines, what Adam Hochschild calls “Magic Journalism”. Go to other writers for the facts, go Kapuscinski for something more.
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