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The Emperor by Ryszard Kapuściński

The Emperor

by Ryszard Kapuściński

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Although I was somewhat hampered by my lack of knowledge of Haile Sailese's reign, it was still a very fascinating book. I'll have to pull out The Shadow of the Sun from the lower depths of the reading pile.
  amyem58 | Jul 3, 2014 |
Superb and terribly insightful. Background and downfall told through the eyes of the palace elite with commentary by Kapuscinski. ( )
  untraveller | Mar 26, 2013 |
Haile Selassie, the emperor of Ethiopia for more than 40 years, was overthrown by the army in 1974. Ryszard Kapuściński, a Polish journalist, was there, and he wrote about it. It became a book titled Cesarz (The Emperor).

The story is presented as an oral history, in the words of Ethiopians who agreed to speak to the foreign journalist, but were anxious not to be identified:

They caution me again, needlessly: no addresses, no names, don’t say that he’s tall, that he’s short, that he’s skinny, that his forehead this or his hands that. Or that his eyes, or that his legs, or that his knees . . . There’s nobody left to get down on your knees for.

This English translation was published in 1983, after Solidarity had become a household word and Poland was actually holding the attention of the U.S. news media. This book even made it into the pages of Time and Newsweek, where reviewers insisted that the author wasn’t just writing about Haile Selassie; he was really taking a subtle swipe at Communism.

Those remarks seemed absurd to me at the time, typical Cold War point scoring. Since then, I've become convinced that Kapuściński probably did have two regimes in mind at once, Ethiopia's and Poland's. The book is not journalism. It's more of a composite portrait of absolute rule.
2 vote Muscogulus | Mar 4, 2013 |
Haile Selassie (1892-1975) served as the head of the Ethiopian government for nearly 60 years, first as regent and chief administrator under Empress Zewditu from 1916-1930, and then as Emperor, after he won a power struggle with Zewditu, from 1930-1974, when he was deposed by a committee of military leaders that slowly infiltrated and controlled the Selassie government.

Selassie was bestowed several dozen official titles by his people and other world leaders, and was widely referred to as "The King of Kings" and "The Lion of Judah" by his people. He was treated as a god by his subjects, as citizens and even his closest advisers did not dare to look him in the eye when addressing him.

Selassie was deeply religious, soft-spoken and introspective, but ruthless with those who opposed or questioned him. He commanded absolute power, and the advisers that were most loyal to him were rewarded handsomely, regardless of how competent they were. As a result, his court was dominated by yes men, who were only interested in self preservation and the attainment of personal wealth, and Selassie was shielded from the extreme poverty that plagued his people and resulted in millions of deaths in years of famine, which ultimately led to popular uprisings and his eventual overthrow.

The acclaimed travel writer Ryszard Kapuściński interviewed several people who served in Selassie's court after the military takeover, to provide an insiders' view of this complicated man and the inner workings of his government. The book consists of the accounts of these men, who ranged from close advisers to petty servants, with occasional brief comments by Kapuściński to provide a contextual background to these stories. The book covers two notable events, the failed coup in 1960 when Selassie attended a meeting in Brazil, and the successful overthrow in 1974, along with the events that led to it. We are also provided with the routine daily operations of the court, which were tightly structured and filled with hourly themed meetings, such as the Hour of the Cashbox, when officials would line up to request funding for projects, which they would use to line their own wallets, and the Hour of the Ministers, which was supposedly dedicated to Imperial matters but became another opportunity for Selassie's trusted advisers to receive favors. The author does not judge or criticize Selassie or his advisers, which makes this a more effective, damning and compelling account of the corruption and depravity of this revered leader. Strongly recommended. ( )
4 vote kidzdoc | Feb 19, 2010 |
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» Add other authors (18 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ryszard Kapuścińskiprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Brand, William R.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mroczkowska-Brand, KatarzynaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679722033, Paperback)

Haile Selassie, His Most Puissant Majesty and Distinguished Highness the Emperor of Ethiopia, enjoyed a 44-year reign until his own army gave him the boot in 1974. In the days following the coup, the Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski traveled to Ethiopia and sought out members of the imperial court for interviews.

His composite portrait of Selassie's crumbling imperium is an astonishing, wildly funny creation, beginning with the very first interview. "It was a small dog," recalls an anonymous functionary, "a Japanese breed. His name was Lulu. He was allowed to sleep in the Emperor's great bed. During various ceremonies, he would run away from the Emperor's lap and pee on dignitaries' shoes. The august gentlemen were not allowed to flinch or make the slightest gesture when they felt their feet getting wet. I had to walk among the dignitaries and wipe the urine from their shoes with a satin cloth. This was my job for ten years." (Well, it's a living.)

Elsewhere, the interviewees venture into tragic or grotesque or downright unbelievable terrain. Kapuscinski has shaped their testimonies into an eloquent whole, and while he never alludes to the totalitarian regime that ruled his native Poland during the same period, the analogy is impossible to ignore.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:03 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

While Ethiopia collapsed around him in 1975, Kapuscinski travelled throughout the country listening to stories of the recently dead Supreme Emperor Haile Selassie by the servants and associates that had surrounded him. The Polish journalist transforms these interviews into a powerful narrative of high living and unimaginable abuse by the ancient regime.… (more)

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