How does one approach the task of writing about a continent as diverse as Africa, filled with extremes of poverty and beauty, suffering and hope? In The Shadow of the Sun, Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski draws from 40 years of reporting to piece together a beautiful yet stark picture of life in Africa.
Kapuscinski's vivid descriptions-of his life-or-death battle with an Egyptian cobra, of his encounter with a desperate mass of beggars trapped in the courtyard of an ancient church, of a terrifying video recording the torture and death of Liberia's president, Samuel Doe-make the book difficult to put down, but occasionally his flair for the dramatic leads the author into generalizations that make him sound more like a pedantic tourist than a veteran foreign correspondent. And though Shadow is filled with diverse characters-sadistic dictators, tragic child warriors, carnal ex-colonial administrators, dare-devilish truck drivers-women are consistently marginalized, reflecting the lack of access Kapuscinski, as a man, had to their experience.
Despite these shortcomings, Kapuscinski's lone-wolf style of journalism, risking great hardship and even death, gives him a perspective that few other journalists are able to offer. His reporting about the poor, he said in a recent interview, gives him more in common with missionaries than with journalists who cover Africa from the most expensive hotels in the land.
The first third of the book covers the 1960s, when many African countries achieved independence. The continent was filled with hope, optimism, and expectation. But before one is halfway through the book, Africa has entered a time of famine and the horror of Idi Amin, followed by the plague of warlords and the war in Sudan.