The Guardian has an obituary out for Ryszard Kapuscinski.
I have to admit, he's always been just one of those writers at the back of my mind. You're aware of his reputation as a literary journalist, but you just never get around to reading his books. I was actually curious about his latest title, Travels with Herodotus, for the Herodotus angle. The book is due out later this year, but now that the author's dead, I am compelled to read the book for Kapuscinski.
From the obituary, Kapuscinski appears to be one of those "supermen" that gave up creature comforts and really went out to explore, to learn and to tell about it. His was travel and writing as social conscience and mission:
Kapuscinksi described his own work as "literary reportage". And, although he was personally a modest man, he believed in its importance for understanding the world. "Without trying to enter other ways of looking, perceiving, describing, we won't understand anything of the world." The European mind, he believed, was often too lazy to make the intellectual effort to see and understand the real world, dominated by the complex problems of poverty, and far away from the manipulated world of television.
It is a little sad that we only get around to picking up someone's works after they die. After all these years, I've finally picked up Octavia E. Butler after all the obituaries on her.
But I guess that's what obituaries do - to give some neglected or unsung heroes the credit that they are due. I have a friend who used to (actually, I believe she still does) read a lot of obituaries from The Economist. She is most convincing on the merits of a well-written obituary allows you a picture of an extraordinary life that you might never have known. Or, sometimes it's a glimpse into a fuller life lived by the deceased beyond what we know.