The Soccer War by Ryszard Kapuscinski

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The Soccer War by Ryszard Kapuscinski

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Category: History
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Keith Dudhnath
Reviewed by Keith Dudhnath
Summary: A thoughtful and insightful piece of reportage, taking in the sights and sounds of revolutions in Africa, Latin America and Asia. Personal stories and the global context are both appropriately considered, giving a great snapshot of historical events. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: June 2007
Publisher: Granta Books
ISBN: 978-1862079595

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Ryszard Kapuscinski spent 40 years reporting for the Polish Press Agency. In that time, he saw 27 revolutions throughout Africa, Latin America and Asia. The Soccer War is reportage at its best: it gets close enough to the action to give an accurate impression of the realities of war, whilst still having its eye on the bigger picture, to provide context and insight.

Kapuscinski strikes the correct tone throughout. He includes himself in the events that occur, without dominating proceedings; he offers his opinion without passing judgement or obscuring facts. His human touch gives a credibility to his reporting, whilst retaining an awareness of his duties as a journalist. His passage explaining the detailed pictures, sights and sounds that each journalist intends to capture when they get to the front should be required reading for all journalists: tell what is, not what you hope to see.

William Brand's translation from the Polish is top notch - so much so that if you didn't know differently you'd swear the book had been written by a native speaker. The translation is neither too strict nor too loose, retaining an engaging writing style that keeps the pages turning at a fair old lick.

The only criticism of The Soccer War is that it lacks a certain cohesion. Many chapters are linked by Kapuscinski's plans for a book, condensing a wide range of events into a few paragraphs. Such is the quality of the full chapters that you're left craving more from these partial chapters.

Coups and revolutions are, by their very nature, often quick, snap events. This is perfectly captured in the chapter on Dahomey. The Soccer War between El Salvador and Honduras lasted just 100 hours. It would be grossly unfair to call the book light, but there is often a yearning for just a little more flesh on the bones - nothing much, just a page or two more per chapter to link everything together and make a better whole.

The greatest strength of The Soccer War is that it's never patronising. It understands, and impresses upon its readers, that this myriad of former colonies in the third world are (well, were, as we're talking about the 1960s primarily) nascent states who are finding their feet. They're not inferior nations to be looked down upon, or politely patted on the head and reminded what things were like when their first world masters ran the show.

This refreshing perspective is partially borne of Kapuscinski being Polish, and thus having no empire to hearken back to, and partially from the man himself: he was a thoughtful, intelligent and considerate person, whose eye-witness accounts provide fascinating insights into people, war and nations, that are still as relevant today as they ever were.

Thanks to Granta for sending the book.

If you enjoyed The Soccer War, you might also like David Loyn's Frontline.

Buy The Soccer War by Ryszard Kapuscinski at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Soccer War by Ryszard Kapuscinski at

Buy The Soccer War by Ryszard Kapuscinski at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Soccer War by Ryszard Kapuscinski at


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Magda said:

Kapuscinski is a quality for himself, certainly. I think this is not his best, though. Shah of Shahs (Iran) and The Emperor (Ethiopia) are really, really classics. And Imperium is good too (Russia), though I only read parts when they were printed in a newspaper, so can't vouch for the cohesion of the whole.