herald

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Sorting fact from fiction

While I was never a fan of JK Rowling's Potter books, the idea of bringing what is in effect a gold- digging suit against her for plagiarism seems pointless.

It will be interesting to see what emerges, but I imagine that Rowling will win in the end.

The mind of any writer is full of the images nourished by characters, plots, places and tales based on books and films they soaked up through their early years, not to mention their own experiences. And when it comes down to it, there are certain given archetypes that all artists have to work with.

Oscar Wilde always maintained that a writer who battles to come up with a wholly original tale through his own imagination alone is not only deluding himself but dishonouring the great writers before him who have helped create the great universal library of templates.



inventing

There is another argument for a non-fiction writer, however, who is accused of inventing content and passing it off as fact.

And it is with some shock I heard about a new book by Artur Domoslawski, a correspondent with a leading Polish newspaper, who claims that the man voted greatest journalist of the 20th century, Ryszard Kapuscinski, "made stuff up".

Kapuscinski was an absorbing writer, who seemed to only have one aim in life -- wander and write about it. And he did both brilliantly.

He was Poland's only foreign correspondent in the 60s and traipsed across 50 countries reporting on civil wars in Africa (The Soccer War) the rot that became the Soviet project (Imperium) as well as books on the pandemonium that ensued after the collapse of Angola in 1975 (Another Day of Life) and the last days of the Shah of Iran (Shah of Iran).

There are passages in his books where he is doused with petrol waiting to be set alight or held in a cell condemned to be shot, only to be saved by some fortuitous event. His descriptions are vivid and captivating.

So he made it up? I'm devastated, but refuse to believe it. However, final judgement has to be reserved until I read the 600-page work, Kapuscinski: Non Fiction that has caused riots in Poland. Then again, I may just re-read Kapuscinksi's books and not bother. I'd hate to ruin a good thing.

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