Life Behind the Lines: Another Day of Life – Ryszard Kapuściński

Another Day of LifeAnother Day of Life by Ryszard Kapuściński

A slim, spooky account of the Angolan Civil War, Another Day of Life is a dramatic and readable read, but it’s also a little maddening too once you start to really think about it.

In 1975, Ryszard Kapuściński took the last plane flying into Luanda as the Portuguese fled the country and it seemed poised on the brink of civil war. He found himself in a country slowly withering away. He writes of seeing the country slowly packing itself up in wooden crates, of dogs roaming the streets and giant ships looming just off the coast, slowly drifting away to Brazil and Europe. Later, he goes to the chaotic front, narrowly missing ambushes and getting shelled. His book vividly captures life behind the action: the empty city, the paranoid citizens and the taps running out of water. It’s a starker read than, say, The Emperor: here, people pop into the narrative and die just a few pages later. A dark sense of mortality is always present here; as he grimly notes when looking at a map of the ever-changing front, “Death’s account is always open.”

As much as I like Kapuściński’s writing (and I really do, I think his prose here is fantastic) there’s always a nagging feeling like I’m missing part of the picture: he clearly had Communist ties thanks to his employment by the government-controlled Polish Press Agency, and openly admits to spending all his time hanging around people affiliated with the Eastern powers-affiliated MPLA. There’s no way his role was as benign or simple as foreign correspondent, but he gives no context to what else he does, let alone of Soviet intervention in the conflict. I don’t know if I should hold that against him.

The space between these lines is one of the most interesting parts of this book: Kapuściński knows the movers-and-shakers of the MPLA, from the guy who flies ammo to the front and takes wounded troops back, to a group of nocturnal and mysterious Cuban army officers to Agostinho Neto, then-president of Angola. It’s never quite clear how he gets to know all these people (it’s hard to imagine too many reporters getting to hang out with Neto during a civil war), only that he does.

Rating: 7/10. As a piece of reportage, I think it’s maybe a little misleading at best and at it’s worst, outright propaganda, like when he calls the FNLA cannibals. But as a writer, Kapuściński shines, making his experiences in a far-removed civil war come vividly alive in these pages. Read it, but think about the message he’s sending, too.


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