The Soccer War by Ryszard Kapuściński

Before reading this review, you have to read this excerpt from this book to get a feel for Kapuściński.

SILENCE. People who write history devote too much attention to so-called events heard around the world, while neglecting the periods of silence. This neglect reveals the absence of that infallible intuition that every mother has when her child falls suddenly silent in its room. A mother knows that this silence signifies something bad. That the silence is hiding something. She runs to intervene because she can feel evil hanging in the air. Silence fulfills the same role in history and in politics. Silence is a signal of unhappiness and, often, of crime. It is the same sort of political instrument as the clatter of weapons or a speech at a rally. Silence is necessary to tyrants and occupiers, who take pains to have their actions accompanied by quiet. Look at how colonialism has always fostered silence; at how discreetly the Holy Inquisition functioned; at the way Leonidas Trujillo avoided publicity.

What silence emanates from countries with overflowing prisons! In Somoza's Nicaragua – silence; in Duvalier's Haiti – silence. Each dictator makes a calculated effort to maintain the ideal state of silence, even though somebody is continually trying to violate it! How many victims of silence there are, and at what cost! Silence has its laws and its demands. Silence demands that concentrations camps be built in uninhabited areas. Silence demands an enormous police apparatus with an army of informers. Silence demands that its enemies disappear suddenly and without a trace. Silence prefers that no voice – of complaint or protest or indignation – disturb its calm. And where such a voice is heard; silence strikes with all its might to restore the status quo ante – the state of silence.

Silence has the capacity of spreading, which is why we use expressions like 'silence reigned everywhere,' or 'a universal silence fell.' Silence has the capacity to take on weight, so that we can speak of 'an oppressive silence' in the same way we would speak of a heavy solid or liquid.

The word 'silence' most often joins words like 'funeral' ('funereal silence'), 'battle' ('the silence after battle') and 'dungeon' ('as silent as a dungeon'). These are not accidental associations.

Today one hears about noise pollution, but silence pollution is worse. Noise pollution affects the nerves; silence pollution is a matter of human lives. No one defends the maker of a loud noise, whereas those who establish silence in their own states are protected by an apparatus of repression. That is why the battle against silence is so difficult.

It would be interesting to research the media systems of the world to see how many service information and how many service silence and quiet. Is there more of what is said or of what is not said? One could calculate the number of people working in the publicity industry. What if you could calculate the number of people working in the silence industry? Which number would be greater?

I really love this excerpt. Kapuściński has a way of writing about news events that goes beyond, who did what, and who killed who. He is great at contextualizing why things are happening, and adding much needed colour to these events. He doesn't shy from inserting himself into the narrative, but that makes for all the better story.

This book seems to be collections of stories he couldn't really fit into a book of its own. The first half of the book is confusing for me because I know nothing of 'African' history from the 1960s and 70s. The narrative becomes stronger, and more straightforward when it gets to the second half of the novel which deals with incidents in Latin America. The book finishes off with an interview with Kapuściński too.

I wouldn't recommend starting with this book, but for me it was the perfect end of my own “Kapuściński trilogy”. I read, The Emperor, then The Shah, and finally The Soccer Wars.

It's a wonderful book, whose only flaw is the silly title.

Rating: ★★★★★ Book #63 in my My 2020 Reading Challenge

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