11 March 2009

Travels with Herodotus

I polished this off over lunch today (I have a new recommendation from Kat, so I had to find and read the previous one). Travels with Herodotus is a rather interesting history commentary in that there is really no personal comment on the events of history but rather personal comments on how Herodotus wrote his Histories. The best bits of the book are the questions Kapuscinski asks himself - how did Herotodus come to know the "history" that he wrote? What happened when Xerxes ordered the execution of the bridge supervisors? Did they beg for mercy? Did a servant take a sip of Darius's specially preserved water supply?

Contrasted with Herodotus's work - read from a copy given to Kapuscinski by his editor before his first trip to India - are small details from Kapuscinski's life as an international reporter for a Polish newspaper and later for the Polish newswire. He contrasts his reading of Darius's massive offensive against the Scythians with his time in the Congo during the overthrow of colonial rule or Herodotus's description of India with Kapuscinski's first-ever overseas visit, also to India via Italy. Kapuscinski also has a great gift for describing the populations of the countries he visits during the 1950s and 1960s - India, China, Egypt, Congo, Ethiopia, Algeria, Senegal - with an eye for learning all the curious bits about a population, why one would act the way they do, without passing much judgement on the population as a whole. The questions and thoughts are interesting, but the book has a rootless feeling to it, drifting. Although Kapuscinski lived through World War II and worked for the Polish news services during Communism, he makes little personal comment about the political situation he grew up in beyond a slight mocking tone when he refers to censorship. He makes occasional reference to sending dispatches to Warsaw but his wanderings through many countries and thoughts on Herodotus make him seem, at times, like a man without a country.

I think next I'll start Gin Phillips's The Well and the Mine, the BN Discover Awards Fiction winner, and then actually start Drood. I also acquired This Republic of Suffering by Drew Gilpin Faust, who recently won a prize from the New York Historical Society, so I'm well stocked for the next few weeks.

In other news, I finally (FINALLY!!) finished my giant red-variegated, half-sheep/half-llama, scarf. It's about seven feet long and I've gotten good use out of it because it was ten degrees outside with a below zero wind chill this morning.

Current book-in-progress: Death Comes for the Archbishop, The Well and the Mine, Drood
Current knitted item: Red socks
Current movie obsession: I haven't actually had much time to watch anything.
Current iTunes loop: The Annie Lennox Collection

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