Thursday, February 26, 2009

Travels with Herodotus by Ryszard Kapuscinski

There are two types of people in this world. Those who accept the passing of a ship on the horizon with disinterest, and those who stop to ask where the ship came from, who's on it, and what cargo does it contain. Ryszard Kapuscinski, belated international journalist and author of "Travels with Herodotus", was one of those people. Born in 1932 in Pinsk, now Belarus, Kapuscinski spent four decades traveling through and reporting on Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Growing up in the height of communist Poland, Kapuscinski cultivates the questions: What else is out there? Who else is out there? Set upon visiting Czechoslovakia, Kapuscinski is instead whisked to India with a copy of Herodotus's "The Histories". Through his travels, and his growing intimate relationship with Herodotus, a 5th century BCE author from ancient Greece, Kapuscinski becomes a changed man, and after reading "Travels with Herodotus", I feel like a changed woman.

Herodotus, affectionately coined "The Father of History" by Cicero, and later "The Father of Lies", traveled the world as he knew it, talking with people from different lands and cultures. Through countless second and third-hand accounts of people and wars, preserved this knowledge in a tome known as "The Histories". While Kapuscinski cannot follow the exact path Herodotus took, his goal is to see the world with that same curiosity and with that same perseverence, and to take the reader with him.

"Travels with Herodotus" is ripe with cultural images and the author's experiences in a very British India, under the watchful eye of Chairman Mao, and in the sun-baked country of Ethiopia. Peppered with quotes from Herodotus, Kapuscinski ties these together into his own experiences, and encourages the reader not to be satisfied with history as we know it. How many times have we read a line in history and never stopped to think about the mind of the thief, or the mind of the people who assisted, or perhaps stood idly by? How many times have we wondered about the faces of the people involved, and if they were laughing, or if they were terrified? Kapuscinski encourages the reader to delve deeper by reflecting on both his own and Herodotus's journeys.

After finishing this book, I put it aside with a smile and the urge that can only be described as wanderlust. The best books are those who take the reader with them, who encourage the reader to think, to learn, and to escape. "Travels with Herodotus" had all of these things, but it resounded with the deeper meaning I have heard while traveling the world: "Don't be a tourist, be a traveller." Listen, and delve deep.

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