The Soccer War by Ryszard Kapuściński

The author described his work as ‘literary reportage’ and that just about sums it up. This is a collection of pieces about his experiences as a foreign correspondent for the Polish media in the 1960s. He was very unusual, since the Communist states did not allow people to travel much and he was clearly a very brave, intrepid and committed journalist.

But his writing is beautiful, as well as grounded compelling experience. The ‘soccer war’ of the title is a war between El Salvador and Honduras that began after an ill-tempered (that is an understatement) soccer match between the two countries, lasted a few days and killed thousands of people. Kapuscinski was there, in person, seeing people die and nearly being killed himself. Other pieces tell of terrifying experiences in Africa, during wars in places little known even at the time.

The fact that he was operating in the Cold War infuses his work with an awareness of the conflict of ideologies that underpinned so much real, murderous war. And the details of the reporter’s existence, dependent on access to telex machines in bullet-holed post offices in places with only occasional electricity, are riveting.

Very good indeed.


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