The Soccer War

In reporting’s best desk-hating tradition, Polish journalist Kapuscinski let his curiosity lead him on, even if it meant “driving along a road where they say no white man can come back alive.” Given this thirst for dangerous experience, it is no surprise that the reportage and commentary of THE SOCCER WAR are exciting and authoritative. Living close to events, the author was always aware of the human price of war, whether to himself, the individuals who shared his seedy floating hotel in Accra, or the masses whose hopes were manipulated and betrayed by even the best-intentioned of leaders.

A reporter for Communist Poland’s official press, Kapuscinski was prepared to sympathize with the liberation movements of the 1960’s, but he acknowledges their bravery and idealism without hiding the follies and worse that caused the common people constant suffering. Though never pushing the party line, he stresses the underlying economic causes for the constant unrest and brings out the dialectical opposition between rich and poor, developed and primitive, white and black, all locked in what he calls a “closed circle of revenge.”

Despite offering little hope of man’s ability to find a way out of the circle, this is not a somber book. In addition to his lively style, Kapuscinski has a flair for creating gripping atmosphere and explaining large conflicts through dramatic anecdotes. But he remains detached, presenting his material with a deadpan irony that captures the farce of the most serious events until the farcical turns tragic.

His accounts of these moments, often entailing considerable risk to himself, make exciting reading, but the author reminds the reader constantly how easy it was for him to return home despite the dangers—and how hard for the people left behind. Kapuscinski has written a valuable document reminding us that their suffering continues even if the wars he covered are long over.