Misguided Tour

It is also hard not to recall Joseph Conrad, that other Pole who came back from Africa with reports on "the African mind," which somehow mirrored the darkness in "the European mind." For Kapuscinski, as for Conrad, and apparently the editors of Euro-American liberal arts magazines, Africa is a symbolic space filled mainly with projections and fantasies based on an axiomatic assumption—doubtlessly a rewarding one to many Euro-American readers—that "we" are not like "them" and never will be.

Ryszard Kapuscinski is bent on explaining the essence of “The African.”
photo: Dominique Nabokov
Ryszard Kapuscinski is bent on explaining the essence of “The African.”

Despite its occasionally mesmerizing stories, Kapuscinski's book is fundamentally flawed with its cultural-difference racism and its speculations about the mind of "the African." This book is akin to Robert Kaplan's Balkan Ghosts, which dispensed essentialist conjectures about "the Balkan mind" and "ancient hatreds," and which allegedly made Clinton loath to do anything about Bosnia. One shudders to think what the current president—assuming that he would read a book—might learn from The Shadow of the Sun.

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