The John Bills Book Club 20: Imperium

Posted on September 29, 2012

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Imperium (Ryszard Kapuscinski)

This is a wonderful book. A 3 part book, spanning Kapuscinski’s childhood, the early days of his journalistic career and extensive travels around the then disintegrating Soviet Union, this is one of the most constantly captivating books about the subject that I’ve had the pleasure to read. Throughout, Kapuscinski’s curiosity shines through in a wonderful way, especially in regards to deepest darkest Siberia and the Central Asian Soviet Republics. It is his voyages to the former Gulag camps that really shone through, where the desolation of the former Soviet Union for those considered undesirable is explained in stark but almost poetic terms. His travails through the Stan’s and the Caucasus were complete page turners for the same reasons, really driving home how culturally diverse the Soviet Union was as a place. I often refer to the former Yugoslavia in those terms, but in comparison it is a mere baby. It is the time spent in the Soviet Union that has also contributed immensely to the fractions and conflicts that seem to plague that part of the world also, and it is the chapter on Nagorno-Karabakh that provides the books most memorable moments.

What this book also does wonderfully is what every travel book should do, which is peak the curiosity of the reader with regards to potential travel to the region. Throughout, my list of places in the former Soviet Union that I plan to visit was expanding. I wanted, and want, to see the places Kapuscinski saw, to meet characters of the types that he did. A wonderful book.

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