Between foreign assignments he wrote short essays about his homeland. Nobody Leaves is a collection of 17 of these, each a deft vignette about a forgotten corner of the nation. Some create a sordid picture, such as An Advertisement for Toothpaste, where the materialistic town of Pratki ‘dances to the newest, dazzling hits, stocks up on televisions, purchases electric sewing machines and Master Picasso curtains’ – but still hasn’t learnt to brush its teeth. Others are more charming, such as Far Away where he describes how the village of Cisowka built its own train station in order to get a railway: ‘There are few train stops like this. Lovely thick woods begin right next to the track... people come along, sit down in the woods, and wait for the train.’
What they all share, however, is a tension between the old world and the new. Village children dream of moving to the city where they say ‘there are so many cinemas, and people don’t have to do things’. Later in the collection, Kapuściński’s army friends grapple with the anxiety of new Cold War weaponry: ‘In our lack of scientific knowledge we spun unfettered fantasies. Some kind of chemical process, instantaneous and terminal, would take place – something in the form of a blast or an invisible change in the composition of the air, and we would melt and evaporate.’
Such observations often reach out of the countryside and tap into international feelings of the age. It is no wonder he was voted one of the greatest journalists of the 20th century.