The lies of Ryszard Kapuściński—or, if you prefer, the "magical realism" of the now-departed master.

Media criticism.
Jan. 25 2007 6:18 PM

The Lies of Ryszard Kapuściński

Or, if you prefer, the "magical realism" of the now-departed master.

(Continued from Page 1)

Ryle writes that the

criticisms do not rob Kapuściński's work of its bright allure, its illuminating moments, its often lively sympathy for the people of the countries he writes about, but they warn us not to take it seriously as a guide to reality.


A "guide to reality" is a pretty good pocket definition of journalism, if you ask me.

Some Kapuściński enthusiasts believe that his "techniques" are defensible because they allow writers to reach a higher truth than does the low-octane variety of journalism. Slate's Meghan O'Rourke writes that our culture needs a label for the hybrid bred by Kapuściński, and such writers as Joseph Mitchell and Truman Capote, whose books straddle the wall between fiction and nonfiction. Dave Eggers attempts such labeling (successfully, I'm told) in his new book, What Is the What, which bills itself as the autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng done as a novel.

Truth in packaging for wall-straddling authors would calm my savage, beating heart, but I'm still bothered by the conceit. Every news story ever published could be better—contain a higher truth, if you will—if reporters were allowed to make up stuff. The measure of a journalist, especially a foreign correspondent, is to achieve the effect of Kapuściński without scattering the pixie dust of magical realism. Dexter Filkins, John Burns, Anthony Shadid, Carlotta Gall, and other geniuses of foreign correspondence have astonished readers without "allegorizing." To create a special category of international reporting that is true—except where not specified as true—would diminish the true masters' feats.


Feats don't fail me now. Kapuściński fans are invited to pour benzene over my naked body and set it afire with e-mail to (E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)

Slate's machine-built RSS feed.



More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.


Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Sept. 16 2014 7:03 PM Kansas Secretary of State Loses Battle to Protect Senator From Tough Race
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 16 2014 11:46 PM The Scariest Campfire Story More horrifying than bears, snakes, or hook-handed killers.
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.