Polished reportage

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by Ryszard Kapuściński.
Selected from Nobody Leaves (2017),
translated by William R Brand.
Penguin Modern: 16, 2018 (1963)

The name of the late Ryszard Kapuściński was one that vaguely registered with me but until now I’d not read anything by him. I note now that controversy has followed his adoption of what has been dubbed ‘literary reportage’ and ‘magic realist allegory’ but to me, coming fresh to his work via this selection of four pieces, it first resembled the category known as creative nonfiction.

As a genre, creative nonfiction purports to present what’s factual in a literary fashion, and that’s what characterises these journalistic essays. Known as a reporter describing overseas events with first hand experience, Kapuściński instead here turns his attention on his native land, postwar Poland under communism.

Integrating himself in the action he gives the quartet of reports a veneer of actualité but glosses them with the polish of prose poetry. In doing so he, a born storyteller, invites us round his hearth, shapes his narratives into fables or short stories, and infuses them with a surrealism that gives them a fairytale quality.

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