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impero

Imperium
Da Ryszard Kapuściński Klara Glowczewska,
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Imperium is the story of an empire: the constellation of states that was submerged under a single identity for most of the twentieth century - the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. This is Kapuscinski's vivid, compelling and personal report on the life and death of the Soviet superpower, from the entrance of Soviet troops into his hometown in Poland in 1939, through his

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data di revisione 04/21/2020
Steinman Weikert

Imperium isn't merely a travel narrative; such would ignore its vitality as palimpsest. It traverses the same roads again and again over time, it returns to immense crime scenes and it ponders a policy of ecological suicide. The book was published in 1994 just before a number of the text's issues came to boil: the two Chechen Wars. There are whispers of the rise of the oligarchs and somewhere lurking is in the frozen mist is Putin. Kapuściński has penned an amazing account of an empire. He often suffers the human failing of bullshit philosophy and guessing wrong about an inchoate state of affairs.

Stalin's chessboard left nascent atrocities across Central Asis. The author notes that dissent could've been crushed with death camps and mobile killing units, but then there would be a culpable element. Famine and cold spread the blame around. There is a sting of commiseration at the book's conclusion. I felt the stab of such as well.
data di revisione 04/21/2020
Kenlay Winesett

In 1917 an entire world went mad; a madness that came to be called the Soviet Union. The persecutions and wars that began with the October Revolution and that lasted for decades were marked by an almost incomprehensible series of mass exterminations; between 1918 and 1953 an estimated 54-110 million citizens of the USSR perished of unnatural causes. The Soviets left behind an enduring legacy of poverty, demoralization and ecological catastrophe.

Deftly weaving historical narrative, personal travel stories and the testimony of those he meets along the way, Polish journalist, poet and traveler Ryszard Kapuściński bears compassionate, clear-sighted witness to this world and its disintegration.

In one of the book's opening chapters, Kapuściński sets out from Peking on the Trans-Siberian railway in 1958 and reaches the border between China and the USSR: "Now it begins. The opening, the unfastening, the untying, the disemboweling. The rummaging, the plunging in, the pulling out, the shaking about. And what is this? And what is that for?...."

But the worst offenders are citizens of the Soviet Union who have brought in little sacs of kasha and it is the job of a customs inspector to sift through it all: "A careful, meticulous sifting through the fingers....The fingers, delicately and imperceptibly, but very carefully, very vigilantly, roll the grain about. They investigate. The experienced finger...ready to throttle the grain instantly, catch it in a trap, imprison it. But the little grain is simply what it is...."

And then comes one of those passages that set Ryszard Kapuściński apart--the flash of empathy, not for the more obvious victim of this nonsense, but for the inspector: "Why, these are fingers that should be should be sculpting gold, polishing diamonds! What microscopic movements, what responsive tremors, what sensitivity, what professional virtuosity!"

I have never read anything quite like this book. I finished it in just a couple of days and then immediately turned back to read it--study it--a second time. It's brilliant, beautiful, weird, astonishing, prescient, haunting and sometimes darkly comedic; filled with word-pictures that seemed rather like the glittering tesserae of a smashed mosaic. If you care about history, if you want to understand how and why the madness happened and why the world is still paying the price of this terrible time--read this book.

I've included more quotes and pictures of the former USSR in the comments section below.
data di revisione 04/21/2020
Emelyne Ehrismann

"Imperium" was the first Ryszard Kapuscinski book I read. I have since bought and read each of this other books if that tells you anything.

Kapuscinski was (he died early this year) a Polish Journalist extraordinaire who spent his life (he nearly died numerous times in the field) covering Coups, Wars and any other havoc he could fly into.

Imperium is about his travels, by plane, train, car, horse, whatever through the Soviet Union...more specifically: Siberia. The heartbreak he describes in these remote mining and Gulag towns is overwhelming. Maybe it's my morbid curiosity with the brutality of the Soviet Union that made me love it...or maybe it's because RK's descriptions read like a novel. His account of the far-reaching areas of Soviet Union are bleak, harrowing and full of life. His description of the 'Stans (for spelling's sake) are also excellent. Not only are they lively and detailed, he traces the history behind the ethnic areas in each, including Chechnya, which I found particularly fascinating.

"I thought about the terrible uselessness of suffering. Love leaves behind its creation-the next generation coming into the world; the continuation of humanity. But suffering? Such a great part of human experience, the most difficult and painful, passes leaving no trace. If one were to collect the energy of suffering emitted by the millions of people here [Magadan, Russia] and transform it into the power of creation, one could turn our planet into a flowering garden. But what would remain?

Rusty carcasses of ships, rotting watchtowers, deep holes which some kind of ore was once extracted. A dismal, lifeless emptiness. Not a soul anywhere, for the exhausted columns have already passed and vanished in the cold eternal fog."
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Dareen Mallin

Kapuscinski delivers in Imperium a near equal of his masterpieces (Another Day of Life, The Emperor, and Shah of Shahs). Describing this makes it seems like an awful mess stitched together from reportage on the dissolution of the Soviet Union, a memoir of the author’s own contact with the empire, travelogue and history of the various regions (writer Geoff Dyer points out the section on the history of the Armenian book as especially wonderful, and I agree.), and an indictment of Stalin’s ruthless, brutal, and surreal rule. The beauty of the writing pulls this together into a meditation on a collapsing empire and a changing of the world order with all the chaos and transformation that is involved. The rot, decay, and weirdness of collapse are what Kapusciski crafts his poetry from, and here he is frequently at his most poetic.
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Halonna Otukolo

This book, by Ryszard Kapuscinski, is amazing. But it is work, albeit well worth the trouble.
It is difficult to put a finger on what it actually is -- travelogue vignettes is about as close as I can come to describing it. Kapuscinksi is a Polish journalist who traveled througout the Soviet Union when few other people could. As he traveled, he recorded his impressions throughout the years beginning with the Soviet occupation of Eastern Poland. His observations are relatively apolitical. They are mostly cultural and the book is filled with all kinds of cultural allusions, some of which I had to look up to understand.
His writing is dispassionate, even when describing the enormous environmental destruction wrought by the Soviets in Central Asia.
There are tidbits of information here that astound and illuminate. I doubt that this book will be read widely, especially in the U.S., but for students of the history of the Soviet Union this is a must. Well written and riveting even in translation, it is a rich portrait of a very diverse "imperium."
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Fara Consla

Please read this one. If you are inclined to learn about soviet Russia, this is a must. It is so good, I could cry. And I did. So strong.
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Romito Cory

Kapuściński was my best personal discovery of the year. His wit, his enormous culture and his historical perspective make him a must for today's journalists and readers. About this book: it is inevitable to find a justified Polish hatred towards Russia and the Soviet Union as a factor in the depiction of many real atrocities perpetrated by the regime. That being said, many testimonies of Siberian residents are appalling, and so are many other stories about the bureaucratic machine told all around the Soviet Union. However, the most impressive part of this book was the ending, in which Kapuściński wrote his views on the future of Russia to be a continued authoritarian and corrupted country are incredibly accurate in light of Putin's regime. How come he was one of the few to foresee it?
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Giffard Grzywacz

impero is the rare book that can explain Communist regimes, in this case, the Communist regime in Russia. In what starts as a memoir, then turns into a multi-trip travelogue Ryszard Kapuściński captures the essence of the regime: the corruption, the decay, the bureaucracy, the totalitarian state, but also the beautifully diverse (and thoroughly enslaved and oppressed) people. This dystopian journalism, for modern Russia (1930s through 1990s) is a dystopian and failed state, is made palatable by Kapuściński's ability to tell stories, to blend humour and unexpected anecdote in the darkest of tales. How to move an oversized bust of Lenin into your room and why this is a sure way to prison? Etc.

Overall, a must-read for everyone wanting to understand Russia. Imperium is brilliant analysis coated in excellent writing, a masterclass in realpolitik in understandable terms.

TODO: about Stalin, Beria, Khrushchev,..., Gorbachev. About the population of Siberia. About the planned conflicts in Armenia, Azerbaijan, etc. About the starvation of millions in Ukraine. About the forced migration of millions. About the murder of intellectuals. About the depredation of Turkestan and its split into five countries. About Moscow, Novgorod, Petersburg. About Baltic states and Belorussia. About the tragedy of conflict set in advance by Russia, to enable it to intervene and occupy later.

The brilliant stories. The brilliant analysis. The brilliant feeling of "this journalist gets it."
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Bonnes Ladnier

A fascinating account of memories and explorations of the USSR by this journalist. The author undertakes an amazing journey through the most remote and inhospit corners of the old soviet empire, in those key years when the state of that empire is decrepit and crumbling.

Ryszard brings us the lost voices and stories of anonymous people who suffered the enormous atrocities of the stalin years, the forced famines, the millions and millions executed, or sent to die of hunger, neglect and forced work in horrible conditions in Siberia.

One of the cannot-miss books to bring some closure to the XXth century, a century of death in unprecedented scale and cruelty. Even when the author does not delve into minute details of that continuous apocalypse that the soviet regime was, some of the details are really heart-wrenching to say the least.

When I still see some people vindicating the figure of Stalin or communism, it seems to me they are even worse than nazis, they are the most repugnant and vile beings. They should read this book, although I guess they'll say it's all lies, it never happened etc...
data di revisione 04/21/2020
Zsa Zsa Houseknecht

A good mosaic from various travels to USSR throughout longer period. In the first part of book, it was obvious that author couldn´t write freely about political situation, thus his remarks were mainly limited on describing culture and daily life of numerous nations trapped in huge soviet Imperium. With glasnost and perestroika undergoing in the late 80-ies, Kapuściński feels strong enough to openly criticise unhuman system and uncovers many dark sides of crumbling, but somehow still mysterious empire. Especially well written parts are when author visits gold mines and former gulags in Siberia and discovers that life there still remains almost unbearable. There are some very strong chapters on awakening nationalism and the tragic fate of minorities (Azerbaijan, Armenia) or about catastrophic soviet interventions to the environment (cotton fields in Kazakhstan, drying Aral Sea). It is noteworthy that many of authors' conclusions remain valid today and are still invaluable if you want to better understand modern Russia.
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Shifra Dirden

A beautifully crafted book detailing the author's travels through significant swathes of the old Soviet Union.

Imperium begins with Kapuscinski's childhood in Poland and the resultant impact of living under Soviet rule, before fast forwarding to his 1950's Trans-Siberian adventure. From here Kapuscinski jumps again to the early 60's, where he visits what the satellite states of the Soviet Union which he collectively refers to as the south. Kapuscinski then details a number of trips made through Mother Russia after perestroika and as the Soviet Union disintegrates towards its own brand of demokratizatsiya.

This is an amazing memoir from one of Poland's true greats and essential reading for anyone looking for a personalised account of travel through the ages across the Soviet Union.
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Steinberg Archambault

I've never seen Russia as an empire. But Kapuscinski convinces me, of its scope, its width, its depth, its beauty, and its terror.
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Milt Wintersmith

In many ways, this book feels just as autobiographical in its insights as it's political revelations dating far enough back to delve into the psychotic cruelty of Stalin for instance. It's a journey into learning by an adventurer who is clearly looking for something, some tie between all the human suffering throughout history wherever it may take place, though this book focuses on the Soviet Union and it's disintegration. This is one of those rich with imagery sort of novels that seems as profoundly imaginative as any nonfiction work could possibly be.

Rarely, is a book just as depressing as it is enlightening.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from it. (The first quote is by far the longest but perhaps will always be the longest lasting image to me.)

p.16 "One day Orion told me that on Zawalna they were supposed to be selling candy and, if I wanted to, we could go stand in line together. It was a beautiful gesture, him telling me about this candy, for we had stopped dreaming of sweets long ago. Mother gave me permission and we went to Zawalna Street. It was dark and snow was falling. In front of the shop, there was already a long line of children, stretching the lengths of several houses. The shop was closed with wooden shutters. The children at the head of the line said that it wouldn't open until tomorrow and that one had to stand here all night. Distressed, we returned to our place at the end of the queue. But new children were arriving continually; the line grew into infinity.

It became even colder than it had been during the day, the frost sharp, piercing, biting. As the minutes passed,then the hours, it was increasingly difficult to stand. I had had for some time very painful abscesses on my burning, swollen with pus. Now the icy cold made the pain unbearable. I moaned with every movement.

Meantime one fragment of the line after another would break away and scatter over the snowy, frozen street. To warm themselves, the children played tag. They tussled, wrestles, rolled in the white powder. Then they returned to the line, and the next group would sally forth, yelling. A delicious luxuriant flame burst out. One by one we took turns beside it so as to warm our hands if only for a moment. The faces of the children who managed to push their way to the fire reflected a golden glow. In this glow their faces thawed, flush with warmth. Thus warmed, they returned to their places and passed on to us, still standing in line, the rays of their heat.

Toward morning sleep overcame the line. Warnings about how one shouldn't sleep in freezing temperatures, for that means death were of no use. No one had the strength anymore to look for firewood or play our game, the square circle. The col pierced through to the bone, cruel, crackling. Hands and feet went nub. To save ourselves, to last the night, we stood in line huddled tightly together, one close upon the other. Despite the chain in which we locked fiercely and desperately together, all remaining warmth was escaping. The snow was burying us more and more, blanketing us with a white, soft sheepskin.

In the morning darkness, two women wrapped in thick scarves arrived and started to open the shop. The line sprang to life. We dreamed marzipan princesses and gingerbread pages. Our imagination was afire; everything in it sparkled, radiated. Finally the doors of the shop opened and the line moved. Everyone was pushing so as to warm himself and get to the front. But in the shop there was neither candy nor chocolate palaces. The women were selling empty fruit candy tines. One for each. They were round, large cans, their sides painted with colorful, cocky roosters and an inscription in Polish-E. WEDEL.

At first we were extremely disappointed and depressed. Orion was crying. But when we began to inspect our loot more closely, we slowly cheered up. On the inside walls of these cans there remained after the candy a sweet deposit, fine, multicolored chips, a thick residue smelling of fruit. Why, our mothers could boil some waters in these cans and offer us a sweet, aromatic drink!"

p.33 "If there exists such a thing a the genius of a nation, then the genius of the Russian nation is expressed in, among other things, just this saying: "Well, that's life!"

p.49-50 "Vanquished in the field of arms, Armenia seeks salvation in the scriptoria. It is a retreat, but in this withdrawal there is dignity and a will to live. What is a scriptorium? It can be a cell, sometimes a room in a clay cottage, even a cave in the rocks. In such a scriptorium is a writing desk, and behind it stands a copyist, writing. Armenian consciousness was always infused with a sense of impending ruin. And by the fervent concomitant desire for rescue. The desire to save one's world. Since it cannot be saved with the sword, let its memory be preserved. The ship will sink, but let the captain's log remain...They translated everything that was within reach. They reminded me in this of the Japanese, who translate wholesale whatever comes their way."

p.104 "Let us remember the date, for it is relevant: June 1933. June 1933 was one of those months when the fields and roads of the Ukraine were strewn with tens of thousands of corpses of people who had perished from hunger, and when there were incidents today coming to light) of women, crazed with hunger and no longer cognizant of their actions, eating their own children. Moreover, they were dying of hunger not only in the Ukraine. They were dying also in the Volga region and in Siberia, in the Urals and by the White Sea.

Yes, and all this was taking place simultaneously-the demolishing of the temple, the millions of people starving to death, the palace that was to eclipse America, and the cannibalism of those unfortunate mothers."

p.127 (Regarding the former USSR) "And so everybody and anybody is arming himself and sharpening hi sword. It is easier in this country to get a pistol and a grenade than a shirt or a cap. That is why so many armies and divisions roam the roads., why it is difficult to tell who is who, what he is after,what he is fighting for. The formula of the pretender to power is being revived, typical in times of chaos and confusion. All manner of commanders, leaders, restorers, saviors, appear and disappear."

p.148 "I am given a key, and I run to my room. Bit have barely walked in when I run out again even quicker: the window is not only wide open, but its frame is encased in a thic, massive layer o ice. Shutting it is out of the question. I rush to the chambermaid with this dismal news. She isn't the least surprised. "That's what our windows are like." She tries to calm me down; she doesn't want me to get excited. What can you do, that's life, that's what the windows are like in the Hotel Vorkuta."

p.160-161 "I walk around dark, cold, and snow covered Vorkuta. At the end of the main street one can see oblong, flat buildings on the horizon-those are the barracks of the old camps. An these two aged woman at the bis stop? Which one of them was a camp inmate, and which one was her overseer? Age and poverty equalize them for now; soon the frozen earth will reconcile them finally and forever. I wade through snowdrifts, passing identical-looking streets and houses, no longer knowing very well where I am. The whole time I have before my eyes the vision of Nikolai Fiodorov.

Fiodorov was a philosopher, a visionary; many Russians consider him a saint. He owned nothing his whole life. Not even a coat in the cold Russian climate. He was a librarian in Moscow. He lived in a little room, slept on a hard chest, placed books and pillows over his head. He lived from 1828 until 1903. He walked everywhere. He died because there was a great frost and someone convinced that perhaps h should after all put on a sheepskin coat and go in a sleigh. The next day he developed pneumonia and died.

"On one of the streets I noticed a wooden booth. A swarthy Azerbaijani was selling the only flowers one could buy here-red carnations. "Pick out for me, " I said, "the prettiest ones you have." He selected a dozen carnations and wrapped them carefully in a newspaper. I wanted to place them somewhere, but I didn't know where. I thought, I'll stick them into some snowdrift but there were people everywhere and I felt that doing so would be awkward. I walked further, but on the next street, the same thing; many people. Meanwhile the flowers were starting to freeze and stiffen. I wanted to find an empty courtyard, but everywhere children were playing. I worried that they would find the carnations and take them. I roamed farther along the streets and alleys. I could feel between my fingers the flowers were becoming stiff and brittle like glass. So I went beyond the town limits, and there, calmly, I placed the flowers amid the snowdrifts."

p. 186 (Regarding Zalozhnaya in Yakutz) "In one of those workrooms/neighborhoods stands a long, patient line. I come closer, up to the stand at which two saleswomen dressed in white aprons are working. I want to see what they are selling, what this crowd of people is waiting for. Cakes for sale. One kind of cake, one type only, with one pattern of pink icing identically inscribed on all. You can pick up the cake just like that-with your hands. It won't fall apart-it is frozen solid."

p.188 "At the end of the program, Yuri Lubimov, the director of the Moszow thaterTaganka, said in a critical but also despairing tone: "We have lost our minds, we have lost our conscience, we have lost our honor. I look around and I see barbarity!" Lubimov's powerful theatrical voice tilled the common room, spilled out into the corridor and lobby."

p.197 (referring to an event in Magadan) "Caucasian mafia" was how the taxi driver characterized those detained. The word "mafia" is enjoying a tremendous popularity these days. It is increasingly replacing the word "nation."

p.219 (Regarding visiting the Kremlin) "On these squares that spread out in all directions, packs of cars, scattered, some here, some there, take off every few minutes, dash wildly along, take every possible shortcut, and hurriedly disappear into the throats of streets that begin somewhere far from here. The infrequently stationed militiamen wisely stand out of their way. But besides them one cannot meet a living soul here, despite the fact that we are in the center of a city of ten million. One feels this desolateness especially on Sunday or during bad weather. The wind rips across the wasteland, driving rain or snow along with it. I sometimes ventured into these unpeople spaces..."

Also all of pg. 273.

p.321 "Television contributed greatly to the collapse of the Imperium. Merely by showing political leaders as normal people, by allowing everyone to look at them from up close-to see how they quarrel and become nervous, how they make mistakes and how they perspire, how they win, but also how they lose-by this lifting of the curtain and thus admitting the people to the highest and most exclusive salons, the salutary and liberating demystification of power took place."
data di revisione 04/21/2020
Kissee Griep

3.5 stars. One of my goals has been to read some highly rated books that aren't that well known, those with an average rating over 4.2 and between 1,000 and 10,000 ratings. As it turns out, sometimes books fall into this category because they weren't well marketed but are beloved by everyone who finds them, and sometimes they're in this category because the people picking them up are those who are specifically interested in the subject area. This book is one of the latter.

If you are very interested in the former Russian/Soviet empire, or you like detailed and far-ranging travelogues, then this book is for you! It is a well-written travel memoir / meditation on empire from a man who spent time all over Russia and the areas formerly part of the USSR. I appreciated the power of the author's writing; I have a more visceral appreciation than before for life in the extreme cold of Siberia or the dry heat of cities within deserts. The political aspects were moderately interesting, though at times I felt like he wandered far away from his point. The ultimate takeaway is not any kind of sweeping conclusion about Russia as a political entity, but rather a strong feeling of what it is to be Russian or, conversely, to be in a country formerly occupied by Russia.

Kapuściński's perspective was intriguing, as he was essentially an outsider (originally born in Poland, though in a part now part of Belarus) and he brought a Western perspective that was not an American one. At times I didn't understand his motivations, as he underwent great discomfort and occasionally great danger to document the lives of poor, everyday people from every part of the former USSR. But once you step back from the details and see the whole, you can understand better what he has done — created a tapestry that paints a picture of Russia very different from the one that is confined to the political sphere. It is a picture of the common man who has endured the ups and downs of the region's history with resignation and stoicism in the face of sometimes extreme suffering. Kapuściński concludes the book in 1993 with predictions about the future of Russia that help explain some of what we see there today.

As good as the writing in this book is and for all that it achieves in the end, it is a bit of a slog if you're not already interested in Russia or the former USSR, or if you're not a travel buff who likes very detailed descriptions of specific places in other countries. I learned a lot, but I also almost put the book down partway through because it was such slow-going. It doesn't usually take me weeks to finish a book under 400 pages! I recommended this book to a friend who speaks Russia and just got back from a week visiting Belarus, but I don't think I'd recommend it more broadly than that. It's a good book for a niche audience.
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Bilow Sternisha

As stated in most of the reviews of this book, Kapuscinski is a great writer. If you have not read him already, read this book and understand why. If you allready have read him, you are going to read this book based on what you allready have learned to know.

Having given Kapuscinski the credit he obviously deserves for his writing, I believe there is some points that should be done.

-First Kapuscinski stands on the shoulders of giants. His writing is to a great extent the result of the local people that he meets on his journeys and agrees to open their region and their lifes to him.

-Kapuscinski is a very gifted writer indeed, that have read a lot about the places and peoples that he visits. On one hand this is what always makes his writing so alive, something to go back to and read again, so informative. On the other hand great literature sometimes can serve as a way of getting away with having little or nothing to really report from the battleground when his plan fails or when he does not get what he intended out of a trip. Striking examples of this is his journey at the Trans-Siberian railway where he only observes the Soviet Union through the train window or to Nagarno Karabakh where he is stuck inside an airport, a car and a flat. That his stories is as intriguing, even when he hardly experience "what the war looks like on the ground" is a clear sign that his capabilities as dramaturg and writer can make up for a rather thin story. Even when he gets the chance to write the story he intended from a place he visits, the timeframe and the difficulties he worked under limits his insights compared to the writers that have covered the area afer him.

-Some paragraphs in the book makes me a bit uncertain about how good the translation is (my review is based upon the Norwegian translation). In the first chapter - Pinsk '39 the comment of a NKVD officer visiting their house "Muzh kuda?" is traslated "where is your husband" instead of the correct "Where have your husband gone", meaning that the NKVD officer allready knows that he has recently been in the house, meaning someone has infomed the NKVD that Kapuscinski's father (a hunted partisan) has recently been in the house. Things like this is not a big deal, but it makes you start thinking about the quality of the translation in general and if it can be the case that the author underplays the role of ordinary people as informers in the terror.

-In his story about the war in Pinsk 1939, his memory of the events as a child probably is an important expalianation behind the qualities of the stories. In the memory of a child events that would probably be described as horrorful and sad by a grown up, in the eyes of a smal shild gets exciting, intriguing, colorful and down to earth.

All in all, Kapuscinski is good reading and Imperium is a great intruduciton to the former Soviet Republics. To get true insight in the contemporary former Soviet Republics, you will need further reading though.
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Gilberte Jecmenek

"The" global journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski turns his attention to the various states of the former Soviet Union as it passed through the early stages of its transformation from 1989-91. Just the fact that it's Kapuscinski makes it valuable as an insightful commentary on an event of world-shaking importance. RK's idiosyncratic style, however, is less conventional reportage, relating poignant experiences and observations of momentous events at a personal level rooted in a deep sense of humanity. He travels to Kolyma, in the nethermost region of Siberia, to the central Asian "-stans", intimating to readers the kaleidoscope of cultures whose physical and mental distance from Moscow illustrates the imperial nature of the Soviet Union, to his own birthplace in Pinsk, once in Poland and now in Belorussia, where he actually begins his book with reminiscences of his boyhood in a country invaded by one and then another - and yet again - totalitarian states...with many destinations and adventures in between. Sometimes RK delves into the history of the events and people who marked a place, sometimes he offers brief but telling portraits of people he meets or even just glimpses during his travels, sometimes he relates daring episodes of border crossings, encounters, and near encounters, all of these tuned to leave an impression - sometimes, it's since been acknowledged, with a dash of imagination to make the impression more "real" - of how the modern world has become and is becoming the way it is. Because it was published in 1994 and was intended to ruminate over developments still "in transition", the final section seems dated - although still worth reflection, paradoxically owing to his moments of prescience; his "Travels with Herodotus" will probably be more enduring than this book, but this one will stand for the way it captured the human dimension of an event so expansive that it might otherwise seem unfathomable.
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Titos Urbani

The travelogue aspect of the narrative can give this a slightly disjointed feel but, after all, this makes no claim to be a definitive history but rather a collection of encounters and personal reminiscences partially illuminated by Kapuscinski's episodic forays into the history of the Russian Empire. What does build is the unavoidable sense of tragedy resultant from the fact that suffering may be at the very centre of the Russian psyche.
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Chloette Dolgas

this book is ok but not as good as his books about south america and africa. i liked the parts about the southern and far eastern soviets the most. when he starts waxing on the differences between liberal democracy and a monolithic totalitarianism it's really unhelpful and kind of silly. it's also the same whenever anyone else does that tho so it's not specific to your pal ryszard. bye
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Carny Nandini

L'Unione Sovietica.

Its name alone conjures images of something frightful, something monolithic, something nigh indestructible. Except, it was much more than that. As Ryszard Kapuscinski's impero shows, it was the last substantial colonial power of the 20th Century, and its subjects made up a diverse state cowed into community through brute force and plentiful use of terror.

As others have stated, this book is not only a collection of observations of the crumbling of that last "empire", but a travelogue taking place in the peripheries of that imperial state. Not much time is spent in the traditionally-Russian cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg. Instead, Ryszard spends the majority of his time in places like nascent republics of Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, and the Ukraine, among others. The visitations occur not on one single trip, but over the span of decades.

What I found most interesting about impero is the in-the-moment perspective that Ryszard is able to bring about a nation facing existential changes at a quickening pace. Yesterday, the Red Army held sway over subservient minority populations, today those same minorities have held generally uncontested legislative elections to strike off on their own path, and tomorrow the Union could collapse and the birth of countless nations may occur. You can feel the uncertainty of the time, but for some, that uncertainty is a godsend--a chance to finally rid themselves of the oppressive Russian imperial yoke.

By the time the USSR was coming to pieces, it was clear it no longer had the wherewithal to perpetuate its existence. Economic policies of the latter 20th Century severely hamstrung the Soviet Union's ability to project influence at home and abroad, ethnic groups had found new strength through a loosening of public discourse, and once strident governance structures were nearing collapse. Ryszard captures these conditions not by monitoring the on-goings at the Kremlin, but through the renewed vigor with which the inhabitants of periphery of the Empire have taken to life. Where once there was no future beyond a bleak existence now emerged at least a chance to determine national fates.

Naturally, while writing in 1991, Ryszard is only able to project only so far into the future, but he was able to provide outsiders a chance to understand the origins of the Russia/Eastern Europe/Central Asia we see today. The roots of these regions were sown thousands of years ago, though their current predicaments are a results of the chaos of a multitude of collapses occurring in the Russian Empire in some form or another. Grasping the connection between the final stages of the world's last true imperial power and the world today is critical for evaluating how this part of the world should be addressed, and Ryszard Kapuscinski offers readers the chance to at least start to piece together the puzzle that is the former USSR.
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Gauthier Stillie

“History in this country is an active volcano, continually churning, and there is no sign of its wanting to calm down, to be dormant.”
Kapuscinski wrote that about Russia in 1994. The weird thing about this book is how his insights on Russia from 25 years ago are basically still correct — there’s one section about Ukraine and how Russia needs it to be strong that, no joke, could have been written in 2019.
This entire book is part journalism, part history, part travelogue and part sociological study — there’s a lot of “why are you the way that you are?” questions aimed at Russians from the perspective of a Pole (a culture who has pretty good reasons for being skeptical of Russia).
I’d read some Kapuscinski before about Latin America (The Soccer War) but this one was closer to home for him and you can tell. It’s funny and cynical but also a little bitter, which I think makes for good reportage. He’s an underrated journalism gem that most of the world knows nothing about because he’s Polish. I need to get more of him into my life ASAP.
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Sanfo Acee

I have read it too late, after too many other books about the post-communist transformation and post-soviet societies. In consequence, I didn't find here anything really captivating (but I think it may be very interesting and easy to read for people knew to the subject). The construction of the book is very loose, as in many other works by Kapuściński. It is a collection of pictures, meetings and personal stories from the falling USSR. For more detailed or intense reading, see Tempo di seconda mano: The Last of the Soviet by Svetlana Alexievich
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Kreg Pearle

Ryszard Kapuscinski is a fabulous storyteller! The stories in this book are amazing, horrific, informative, and heartbreaking.

A very beautifully written book which provides wonderful insights into the ex Soviet countries and the personal stories of the people who lived in the Soviet imperium. Highly recommend!
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Hyrup Hazarika

This is the fourth book I've read by Kapuscinski and its definitely in the top 2 (Another Day of Life being my other favorite). The Imperium is what Kapuscinski considers to be the last empire of the 20th century, The Soviet Union. For most of his career Kapuscinski wrote about developing nations in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Instead here we find Kapuscinski traveling through the mountains, deserts, cities, and small mining towns of the Soviet Union. From when the Red Army first entered his hometown during WWII to smuggling himself into Azerbaijan during the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kapuscinski paints a vivid picture of the Russian Empire and its many cultures. The book was published in 1994 however most of the book covers events between 1989 and 1991.


Its not really a "history" book nor is it a travel book. Honestly my best analogy would be if Anthony Bourdain meets war journalism (even though theres not full blown conventional war fare through out the book). I loved this book!
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Karilynn Viernes

These essays form Kapuscinski's journalist account of travels in nations and cultures broken, swallowed and digested by the USSR. Although Imperium was written in 1993, the more I read of it in 2017, the more it reads like a collection of cautionary (though very humorous because: Kapuscinski) narratives about how very sadistic, oppressive and anti-human a government can be.

Medvedev, quoted on communism's ideals and Stalin: "In point of fact Stalin took over and even accomplished this assignment (establishing a proletarian religion without God) but . . . with a God, the almighty, all-knowing, dangerous God of the new religion was proclaimed to be Stalin himself."

(So much for the ideals of communism and their realization in Russia, the USSR, etc., as we will see . . .)

"For years the bureaucracy and the police maintained a well-developed system of spying and informing designed to uncover only one offense: Did someone ask? What did he ask about? Give me the name of the one who asked."

"A civilization that does not ask questions, one that banishes from within its compass the entire world of anxiety, criticism, and exploration -- the world that expresses itself precisely through questions -- is a civilization standing in place, paralyzed, immobile. And that is what the people in the Kremlin were after, because it is easiest to reign over a motionless and mute world."

". . . the news exploded (in Moscow) that a large city . . . Ufa -- had been poisoned. It wasn't just effluvia, combustion gases, and so forth, for these are commonplace; the city had been poisoned severely, dangerously, mortally. . . . Because chemical plants are shoddily built here and because the proper filters and cleaners are regarded as the whims of ecological purists, the phenol was continuously leaking into the rivers . . . Turning on their faucets, people saw a rust-colored, opaque substance dripping from them. . . . Still there was no visible panic. People here accept all misfortunes, even those caused by the soullessness and stupidity of those in power . . . The thoughtlessness and brutality of the authorities is just one of the cataclysms that nature so liberally dispenses."

Describing Yakutsk, a Kremlin colony/mining community, where mud runs into people's houses once the permafrost melts and there are shortages of just about everything we consider basic: "So instead of diamonds, gold and Kuwait I found . . . an entire city of poverty. Yakutsk never touches the diamonds. They are shipped straight from the mines to Moscow, where they are used to pay for the production of tanks and rockets, and for the international politics of the Imperium."

"Three plagues, three contagions threaten the world.
The first is the plague of nationalism.
The second is the plague of racism.
The third is the plague of religious fundamentalism.
All three share one trait, a common denominator -- an aggressive, all-powerful, total irrationality. Anyone stricken with one of those plagues is beyond reason. In his head burns a sacred pyre that awaits only its sacrificial victims. . . ."

The suffering K describes is readable only because of his keen observation, humor, insight, wonderful writing. And he loves the people he meets.
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Blanding Trauernicht

I read it and I felt as if I had lost a genuine friend. He writes about his travels across the USSR and (later - the former republics), from Armenia to Kolyma's horrors, from Central Asian ecological problems (caused by the regime's "most reasonable minds") to Moscow, the Third Rome, as some believe...

In my view the book is an ultimate success: the classics of reportage. Everyone interested in professional journalism must read this one.

I only wished I could read Polish, since I am more than certain that his language and the way he expresses himself is even juicier and more vivid, brighter and more unusual than the translated English version. However let's rather thank the translator for bringing this work to a broader audience.

At first I thought I knew the disasters he was talking about. You cannot be ignorant, living in a post-communist country. Also the fact that the history of USSR is nothing new to me, but Ryszard Kapuscinski surprised me and revealed thousands of facts about the former USSR, I had never heard of.

Some excerpts from this marvelous book:

"I thought about the terrible uselessness of suffering. Love leaves behind its creation - the net generation coming into the world, the continuation of humanity. But suffering? Such a great part of human experience, the most difficult and painful, passes leaving no trace. If one were to collect the energy of suffering emitted by the millions of people here and transform it into the power of creation, one could turn our planet into a flowering garden.
But what has remained?
Rusty carcasses of ships, rotting watchtowers, deep holes from which some kind of ore was once extracted. A dismal, lifeless emptiness. Not a soul anywhere, for the exhausted columns have already passed and vanished in the cold eternal fog." (p.216)

"That desire - for one's voice to be heard somewhere - is characteristic of enslaved peoples, who cling to their belief in possibility of justice in the world the way a drowning man clings to a plank, who are convinced that being heard is being understood and that by that means alone they an prove their argument and win the case." (p.241)

"Three plagues, three contagions, threaten the world.
The first is the plague of nationalism.
The second is the plague of racism.
The third is the plague of religious fundamentalism.
All three share one trait, a common denominator - an aggressive, all-powerful, total irrationality. Anyone stricken with one of these plagues is beyond reason. In his head burns a sacred pyre that awaits only its sacrificial victims. Every attempt at calm conversation will fail. He doesn't want a conversation, but a declaration that you agree with him, admit that he is right, join in the cause. Otherwise you have no significance in his eyes, you do not exist, for you count only if you are a tool, an instrument, a weapon. There are no people - there is only the cause.
A mind touched by such a contagion is a closed mind, one dimensional, monothematic, spinning round one subject only - its enemy. Thinking about our enemy sustains us, allows us to exist. That is why the enemy is always present, is always with us." (p.248)

"Our Western imagination (this principle was once described by Walter Lippman) lags behind events, needs time to plumb their meaning and grasp their dimension. But Russians grasp immediately what has happened." (p.281)

"It is interesting that today blood flows only where blind nationalism enters the fray, or zoological racism, or religious fundamentalism - in other words, the three black clouds that can darken the sky of the twenty-first century." (p.323)

It is interesting what Ryszard Kapuscinski wrote, concerning the future of Russia, in 1994:
"Everyone has forgotten about perestroika and glasnost.
The democratic camp, so active during the struggle against communism, has been pushed to the margins of the political stage and finds itself either in disarray or simply forgotten. In general, democracy is spoken about less and less in Russia.
A mood of waiting and apathy prevails throughout society; people are largely apolitical.
Forces calling for the consolidation of power (especially of central power) and a strong, mighty nation are gaining the upper hand. It is a climate that encourages authoritarian methods of government, favorable to various forms of dictatorship." (p. 326-327)
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Hubbard Stoddart

In Imperium, Kapuscinski writes of his soul crushing experience of travelling across the length and breadth of Russia both during the heydays of the USSR and during Gorbachev's experiment of Perestroika.

The highlight of the book was Kapuscinski's visit to Serbia. The wilderness and bleakness of the landscape gets explained and makes one realize how it came to become Stalin's most preferred option to banish millions to doom as a part of his chessboard politics over modern day Central Asia.

He writes: :There is something in this January Siberian landscape that overpowers, oppresses, stuns. Above all, it is its enormity, its boundlessness, its oceanic limitlessness. The earth has no end here; the world has no end. Man is no created for such measureless. For him a comfortable, palpable, serviceable measure is the measure of his village, his field, street, house. At sea, the size of the ship's deck will be such a measure. Man is created for the kind of space that he can traverse at one try, with a single effort

In short capsules, Kapuscinski covers life in places such as Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia, Uzbekistan and Ukraine. In retrospect, its not hard to realize how the same region has emerged as the geopolitical hotspot during this Age of Putin. Kapuscinski makes a passing reference to the looming specter of Islamic terrorism. Wonder what he would have made of today's world.

Imagining life in the USSR, itself sends a shudder.....
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Gerhardt Carsonsr

I always think that a book with a handwritten and personalised inscription should be kept:

Joan
Happy (belated) Birthday 2002
Jamie x

Translated from the Polish by Klara Glowczewska. The book is in three sections:

First Encounters (1939-1967)

Dalla prefazione: I tell about the entrance of soviet troops into my hometowm in the Peloise region of Poland (today this is Belorussia), and a journey across a snow-covered and desolate Siberia, about an expedition to Transcaucasia and to the republics of Central Asia - in other words, to the territories of the former USSR that are filled with exoticism, conflicts, and a singular atmosphere replete with emotion and sentiments.


From a Bird's Eye View (1989-1991)

: it is an account of several of my longer wanderings over the vast lands of the Imperium, which I made in the years of its decline and final disintegration (final at least insofar as the form in which it existed in 1991 is concerned). I made these journeys alone, bypassing official institutions and routes, and the pathes of these expeditions led from Brest (the border between the former USSR and Poland) to Magadan on the Pacific, and from Vorkuta beyond the Artic Circle to Termez (the border with Afghanistan). A total of about sixty thousand kilometres.

The Sequel Continues (1992-1993):

a collection of reflections and observations and notes that arise.
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Ardella Christofferso

I have read every Kapuscinski book I could get my hands on (and I just bought one I couldn't find despite the fact that I never buy books I haven't read). I have thought so much about what to say about this book. It is so splendid. I think it might be my favorite. In part because he covers a period in the USSR that he as a young Pole actually experienced. I have read a great deal about Russia after the revolution, but there is always more to learn and more points of view to see it from. Kapuscinski travels "the Stans" in the 1990's, after the breakup of the Soviet Union. As I read the book, I kept thinking that I needed to quote various paragraphs to give a decent review....until I realized that I would be quoting a good portion of the book. The author is so personal in details, and yet has such a good overview of the time period that I often found myself thinking "So THIS is what caused this to happen"; or "So THIS is why this minority stan feels as it does". As you can see, I am completely unable to tell you about this book. Kapuscinski is one of the best--maybe THE best reporter/writer of the 20th century.
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Coralie Husanini

Kapuscinski is always brilliant, and his lifelong run-ins with Russia and the Soviet Union set the stage for this work very well. He is at his best journeying through the periphery of the Imperium - the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Ukraine. It is here that his innate sense of adventure and his brilliant ability to engage normal people and, through their eyes, draw a picture of life in a foreign land - foreign because it is different, changing, developing, facing the chaos of change or political upheaval. The book certainly sketches out portions of Russian history, but the focus is more on the chaotic devolution of the Soviet world, so a thorough knowledge of Russian history makes the book more fascinating. One point of criticism is that, while his examination of the political change at the dusk of the USSR has some elucidating insight and powerful predictions, it is quite short and narrowly focused. Certainly, Kapuscinski is not and has never been a purely political analyst, but I would have loved to picked his brain at the time of his travels to fully unpack his vision of the future of the Russian world.

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