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Travels with Herodotus (Vintage…
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Travels with Herodotus (Vintage International) (original 2004; edition 2008)

by Ryszard Kapuscinski, Klara Glowczewska (Translator)

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1,026278,260 (3.92)85
Member:tim86
Title:Travels with Herodotus (Vintage International)
Authors:Ryszard Kapuscinski
Other authors:Klara Glowczewska (Translator)
Info:Vintage Books USA (2008), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 275 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***1/2
Tags:memoir

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Travels with Herodotus by Ryszard Kapuściński (2004)

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A seasoned reporter looks back on some of his travels, as a young, wide eyed journalist in the newly thawed soviet bloc, as he is sent overseas to India, China, and north and east Africa. Along for his wanderings he takes a newly translated (into his language, Polish) edition of The Histories by Herodotus, the great investigator, whose determined chronicling of the known world of 2500 years ago makes for magical reading for Kapuscinski. So much is hearsay, acknowledged by Herodotus. Yet today, curious minds still must interpret, depend upon subjectivity. This is a great intro to The Histories, which I am now interested in taking a look at. Also a good hopscotch view of, especially, north-east Africa in the early 1960s. ( )
  JamesMScott | Nov 21, 2014 |
One of the magical things about reading is that it puts the reader directly in touch with the mind of the writer. Unfortunately, this is only a one-way street. But Ryszard Kapuscinski has seemingly performed the impossible: He somehow got Herodotus to answer questions about himself that he never directly addressed in his monumental The Histories. We know next to nothing of the facts of Herodotus' life: He came from Halicarnassus, an ancient seaport in western Asia Minor, now Bodrum, Turkey; he abided for a time in Athens where he was unable to obtain citizenship, so he eventually settled in an obscure Greek colony in the inner arch of the foot of Italy called Thurii.

To American readers, at least, Ryszard Kapuscinski (1932-2007) isn't exactly a household name. But it turns out that he was one of the most respected international journalists around. In addition to Travels with Herodotus, he wrote books on some very interesting subjects including, for example, The Emperor, about the decline of Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia; Shah of Shahs, about the last days of the Shah of Iran; and Imperium, about the fall of the Soviet Union.

Kapuscinski first heard of Herodotus while attending university in 1951 Poland. This was a time when books were not readily available as they are now, and even something as seemingly innocuous as a Polish translation of Herodotus' Histories was locked away in a closet before it even got printed. As Kapuscinski wrote:

. . . all of our thinking, our looking and reading, was governed during those years by an obsession with allusion. Each word brought another one to mind; each had a double meaning, a false bottom, a hidden significance; each contained something secretly encoded, cunningly concealed. Nothing was ever plain, literal, unambiguous — from behind every gesture and word peered some referential sign, gazed a meaningfully winking eye. The man who wrote had difficulty communicating with the man who read, not only because the censor could confiscate the text en route, but also because when the text finally reached him, the latter read something utterly different from what was clearly written, constantly asking himself: What did this author really want to tell me?

Herodotus — the Polish version — was finally published in 1955 when a "thaw" was beginning to take place. Kapuscinski got a job with a newspaper and eventually was sent to India as a foreign correspondent. He was given "a present, for the road." It was a copy of Herodotus, The Histories.

Kapuscinski not only carried the book with him, but he actually began to read it! And thus began a lifelong collaboration with the author of this ancient text. Judging from Kapuscinski's manner of storytelling, it would appear that his journalism mimics that of Herodotus in many subtle ways. Some critics who weren't all that enamored of his style of journalism probably didn't understand how it evolved from his study of Herodotus. One writer even dubbed his style "magic journalism," sort of a nonfiction variation on Gabriel Garcia Marquez's magic realism. This is amusing but it entirely misses the point. As Kapuscinski says: "Herodotus's book arose from travel; it is world literature's first great work of reportage. Its author has reportorial instincts, a journalistic eye and ear." Kapuscinski's career as a newspaper's foreign correspondent also arose from travel, and it probably didn't take him long to realize that in Herodotus he had serendipitously been handed access to the perfect prototype of his own budding craft. For him The Histories served as a reporter's handbook.

He began to ask questions: How does Herodotus work? As a diplomat, a spy, a tourist, a wanderer? No. Herodotus was "a reporter, an anthropologist, an ethnographer, a historian." What is the goal of Herodotus' journeys? How does he travel? By analyzing the book from a writer's standpoint, he began to gain insights into his own writing. And here was the key:

One must read Herodotus's book — and every great book — repeatedly; with each reading it will reveal another layer, previously overlooked themes, images and meanings. For within every great book there are several others.

While Kapuscinski had been given the book as a traveling companion, he found eventually that he had been on two journeys — first, as a foreign correspondent; and second, as a traveler with Herodotus on his various journeys of inquiry. In a similar way, through Travels with Herodotus, we are getting to know two fascinating writers and their work. Kapuscinski presents the broad outlines of The Histories in the contexts of his various foreign assignments — among others, in India and China, Congo in the midst of civil war and Algiers in the aftermath of a coup. The circumstances in each locale inform Kapuscinski's reading of Herodotus and conversely, Herodotus' enquiries inform Kapuscinski's reporting of unfolding events.

Through his travels — mostly in the third world — Kapuscinski often found himself in situations that were as primitive as those Herodotus encountered, and this is probably one reason why The Histories resonated for him. But traveling, whether as a reporter or as a mere tourist, has much in common with reading great literature and has profound effects:

A journey, after all, neither begins in the instant we set out, nor ends when we have reached our doorstep once again. It starts much earlier and is never really over, because the film of memory continues running on inside us long after we have come to a physical standstill. Indeed, there exists something like a contagion of travel, and the disease is essentially incurable.

If one finds the prospect of reading The Histories too daunting, one cannot go wrong by dipping a toe into the waters through Travels with Herodotus. This is one of those books . . . ( )
6 vote Poquette | Aug 11, 2014 |
I discovered Kapuscinski many years ago through an issue of Granta and told myself I must read more... Not disappointed by this one, though I approached it with some trepidation, thanks to the dreadful Mr Kilner, my soporific history teacher at grammar school when I was 12, when Ancient Greece was on the curriculum. If only we could have had someone like Kapuscinski, who highlights all the juicy bits. Here he relates his early travels as a reporter, sent out raw from Poland to China, Africa and elsewhere, always accompanied by The Histories, which inspired and intrigued him. The writing flows from his pen like an easy-running stream, brilliantly translated (one would never guess it is a translation). Next time I travel I will go with Kapuscinski.
This edition (Folio Society) is illustrated with the author's black and white photos. For some reason, American spelling is used, and there are several typos, which I always find annoying in these "fine" editions. ( )
  overthemoon | Jul 11, 2014 |
A wonderful read, part reading memoir and part life memoir. Kapuscinksi was a foreign correspondent from Poland and I thought at first it would be more about that but became more and more about his fascination with reading Herodotus during his travels. I'm not sure which bit I enjoyed more, it was all interesting and thoughtful and suprising. Thanks, Patricia, for reccomending it.
  amyem58 | Jul 3, 2014 |
Travels with Herodotus is famed Polish foreign correspondent Kapuściński's tale of his early travels around India, China, and Africa, and the copy of the Histories Herodotus that accompanied him. Beginning as a young graduate in Communist Warsaw who tells his supervisor that one day he'd like to go to Czechoslovakia and ends up in India, the story continues through his time in Africa when he finally figures out how to be a journalist. Paralleling this storyline is that of Herodotus and his travels and investigations of the various peoples of the Mediterranean. This device works remarkably well, but then again Herodotus is an excellent tale in itself.

For those who like interesting travel memoirs, are interested in journalism or the stories of Herodotus. Highly recommended. ( )
  inge87 | May 30, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (18 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ryszard Kapuścińskiprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Glowczewska, KlaraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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I am like one of those old books that ends up moldering for lack of having been read. There's nothing to do but spin out the thread of memory and, from time to time, wipe away the dust building up there. - Seneca
All memory is present. - Novalis
We are, all of us, pilgrims who struggle along different paths toward the same destination. - Antoine de Saint-Exupery
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Before Herodotus sets out on all his travels, ascending rocky paths, sailing a ship over the seas, riding on horseback through the wilds of Asia; before he happens upon the mistrustful Scythians, discovers the wonders of the Nile, before he experiences a hundred different places and sees a thousand inconceivable things, he will appear for a moment in a lecture on ancient Greece, which Professor Biezunska-Malowist delivers twice weekly to the first-year students in Warsaw University's department of history.
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From renowned journalist Ryszard Kapu?ci?ski comes this intimate account of his years in the field, traveling for the first time beyond the Iron Curtain to India, China, Ethiopia, and other exotic locales. This is an exceptional chronicle of one man's journey across continents. - Publisher.… (more)

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