Shah of Shahs

Shah of Shahs
Ryszard Kapuściński
5/5 stars

“Everything that makes up the visible outward part of revolution vanishes quickly. A person, an individual being has a thousand ways of conveying his feelings and thoughts. A crowd on the other hand reduces the individuality of the person, limits him to a few forms of behavior. The forms through which a crowd can express it’s yearnings are extraordinarily meager and often repeat themselves, the demonstrations, the rally the barricades. This is why you can write a novel about a man but a crowd - never”
  • Kapuscinski

One of the things that Kapuscinski brings to the table which I more often than not find lacking in the modern worlds cold and analytical journalism is a certain element of empathy. The ability to enter a situation , that to us makes little sense and place oneself in the position of both the victims and the perpetrators. To do this selectively is easy, it allows poor journalists to craft one sided narrative of good and evil, of righteous warriors and savage barbarians, or of innocent victims and murderers perpetrators. Therefore it is a testament perhaps to Kapuscinski’s sheer brilliance that he is able to avoid this trap.
In Shah of Shah’s Kapuscinski is able to create in the mind of the reader a certain degree of understanding. He dives into the chaos of 1978 and takes from it a series of narratives, there is the story of the Shah, presented to us piece by piece in the pages of the book. There is the story of Savak, and the terror it struck in the heart of the Iranian people. If there is a common thread in all the stories that are told in 152 pages of this book it is the story of what Kapuscinski termed a failed transplant of European institutions and models of development into a nation woefully unprepared for them. The failure of the Shah’s “Great Civilization” is the story Kapuscinski weaves.

In essence what Kapuscinski has done is quite in contradiction to what his book claims is possible. Shah of Shahs is above all else a novel about a crowd.


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