Taylor Plimpton at The Paris Review:
Perhaps no modern writer has experienced as much political turmoil and upheaval as the great Polish storyteller Ryszard Kapuscinski. Take, for instance, his claim that during his time serving as a reporter and war correspondent, he witnessed twenty-seven coups and revolutions and was sentenced to death four times. One might expect Kapuscinski to have a particularly informed response to the question that seems to be on so many people’s minds these days: What, if any, is the social or political responsibility of the artist? Or, to put it another way: Should writers be writing for a cause?
Penned thirty-five years ago, Shah of Shahs is Kapuscinski’s retelling of the most notorious revolution that he ever experienced firsthand—the Iranian Revolution of 1979. The book is a brilliant, nuanced portrait of a country and its corrupt leader in the tumultuous days leading up to and following his removal from power. Yet, upon close examination of the text, it seems that the author’s allegiance isn’t to any political party or ideology or cause—he is as harsh a critic of the powers that toppled the Shah as he is of the Shah himself. Instead, his allegiance is simply to art, and to the truth.