Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

In May, 1963, the Polish journalist and essayist Ryszard Kapuciski was an observer at the establishment, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) under the sponsorship of Emperor Haile Selassie. In the intervening years he made other trips to Ethiopia. After the fall of the emperor in 1974, Kapuciski returned to Ethiopia to report on what had happened. There he made contact with former members of the deposed Emperor’s household. With their statements as its base, this book is Kapuciski’s presentation as well as his interpretation of the events and conditions that brought an end to Haile Selassie’s reign.

Kapuciski’s form here is not that of a newspaper reporter’s, with its emphasis on giving the facts as objectively as possible; he presents what he has to say largely in the form of transcriptions of “interviews” with these people. Onetime dignitaries, middle-level functionaries, and servants, they were hiding in Addis Ababa, fugitives from the new government, and consented to interviews only with the assurance that their identities would not be revealed. Therefore, each statement is preceded by the speaker’s initials only.

The book is divided into three major sections—“The Throne,” “It’s Coming, It’s Coming,” and “The Collapse”—each introduced by quotations from various sources chosen to set the tone of the division. Each of these larger sections is divided into smaller groupings of statements by the various speakers. Between these groups, the author enters directly into the work, speaking in his own voice and providing historical and personal background; his contributions are printed in italics, not only signaling to the reader that the author is using his own voice but also announcing a new step in the development of the particular larger division. The final two entries of the book are brief quotations from news reports: The first reports that the...

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(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Blake, Patricia. Review in Time. CXXII (July 18, 1983), p. 66.

Osiatynski, Wiktor. Review in The Antioch Review. XLII (Fall, 1984), pp. 495-502.

Prescott, Peter S. Review in Newsweek. CI (April 11, 1983), p. 76.

Smiley, Xan. Review in The New York Times Book Review. LXXXVIII (May 29, 1983), p. 9.

Updike, John. Review in The New Yorker. LIX (May 16, 1983), p. 122.