But things turned out otherwise

In Imperium, Ryszard Kapuściński presents sketches of the Soviet Union as it breaks apart. To find and understand the “Soviet man”, Kapuściński travels across the empire. He sneaks illegally into Nagorno-Karabakh, nearly freezes to death in Siberia, visits the remains of a labor camp, tests the patience of Kremlin guards, and speaks to a survivor of the Ukrainian genocide. His emphasis is on the everyday. A recurrent theme is the sight of confused, tired, hungry people who spend weeks in airports, waiting for a plane. Where are they going? Where did they come from? Nobody knows, nobody cares, an already broken system has come to a halt. Kapuściński’s sketches span both the everyday and the historic scale. Describing a Gulag town, he reminds the reader of the many thousand human bodies buried beneath its streets. Asking himself if the old men he sees there were victims or perpetrators of the Gulag, he realizes that the question is meaningless. They were of course both. The story he tells of the Palace of the Soviets is strangely infuriating despite the lack of human suffering: Stalin blew up Moscow’s greatest church to build an insane monument to Communism. Running out of funds, Khrushchev turned the building site into a giant pool. (The church has later been rebuilt.) Despite the Imperium’s diversity and geographic span, Kapuściński does find a “Soviet man” of sorts, in the ability to resign yourself to irrational horrors. As one woman tells him, “We breathe!” Rarely has optimism sounded so depressing.

2 thoughts on “But things turned out otherwise

  1. Mats

    Kapuściński is great. You should try reading “The Shadow of the sun” as well (“Ibenholt” in norwegian).

  2. mats

    I just want to add a great quote from the aforementioned book:“The fishermen threw their catch onto a table, and when the onlookers saw it, they grew still and silent. The fish was fat, enormous. Everyone knew that for a long time now Amin’s henchmen had been dumping the bodies of their victims in the lake, and that crocodiles and meat-eating fish must have been feasting on them. The crowd remained quiet.”

Comments are closed.