No. 4: “The Soccer War” by Ryszard Kapuściński
Travel Blog • Frank Bures • 05.28.06 | 8:34 PM ET
To mark our five-year anniversary, we’re counting down the top 30 travel books of all time, adding a new title each day this month.
Territory covered: Africa, Central America, Cyprus and Israel
In his more than a decade working as Poland’s only foreign correspondent, Ryszard Kapuściński traveled all over Africa, and even to Latin America. Not satisfied with the short news dispatches he had to telex home, he also wrote longer pieces to be published later, which helped establish him as one of the best of the new writers using the tools of literature to illuminate their travels. And the things Kapuściński saw lent themselves to this well: He was thrown in jail, he heard Prime Minister of the Congo Patrice Lumumba speak before he was assassinated and he was almost burned to death by angry mobs in Nigeria. The tales are mythic, but it is his eye for the details of life that give The Soccer War its richness.
“The so-called exotic has never fascinated me,” he wrote, “even though I came to spend more than a dozen years in a world that is exotic by definition. I did not write about hunting crocodiles or head hunters, although I admit they are interesting subjects. I discovered instead a different reality.” Elsewhere, amid the war and struggle and corruption, Kapuściński finds that, “There is so much crap in the world, and then, suddenly, there is honesty and humanity.”
Outtake from The Soccer War:
The whole land of the Yorubas is in flames.
I was driving along a road where they say no white man can come back alive. I was driving to see if a white man could, because I had to experience everything for myself. I know that a man shudders in the forest when he passes close to a lion. I got close to a lion so that I would know how it feels. I had to do it myself because I knew no one could describe it to me. And I cannot describe it myself. Nor can I describe a night in the Sahara. The stars over the Sahara are enormous. They sway above the sand like great chandeliers. The light of those stars is green. Night in the Sahara is as green as a Mazowsze meadow.
I might see the Sahara again and I might see the road that carried me through Yoruba country again. I drove up a hill and when I got to the crest I could see the first flaming roadblock below.
It was too late to turn back.