Over the last five years I became a great fan of Polish journalism so that every time I skim through bookshelves labelled 'travels' or 'reportages' I hunt for that bunch of authors I know or for any Polish sounding surname. That's how I 'discovered' Tochman and Stasiuk, for instance. And that's how Wojciech Górecki showed up with two books he wrote, one about Caucasus as a whole and this one about Georgia.
Now, the only Górecki I knew was the composer Henryk whose Third Symphony became an unusual worldwide hit in the mid 1990s. The unexpected success for the Polish composer came thanks to the British trip hop band Lamb who sampled a tiny bit of it in their aptly titled song Górecki back in 1996.
(I didn't like that song as well as the symphony).
Wojciech Górecki is not related to Henryk.
The Italian edition I bought calls Górecki 'the heir of Ryszard Kapuscinski' and Wojciech himself dedicates
'La terra del vello d'oro' ('The Land of the Golden Fleece') to the great Polish reporter.
Are there similarities in writing style and reporting approach between Kapuscinski and Górecki? To be honest I couldn't find many. The dean of Polish reportage liked to write about his own personal daily experiences living in foreign countries and stressing out his fascination for everything local and his distaste for the spoiled reporters gossiping from their five starred resorts. The young dauphin prefers to draw sketches of what he sees around him keeping himself as humble as Kapuscinski but standing more in the background than him.
The Georgia portrayed and narrated by Górecki in the early 2000s was not at war, for the time being. This state of temporary, if apparent, serenity lets the Polish reporter tell the reader about the country's turbulent history, its unique traditions, its multi-layered character. For someone like me who didn't know much about Georgia having read only a single book marginally dealing with it and dating back to the 1960s ('Journey into Russia' by Laurens Van der Post), Górecki's book brought a gust of fresh and precious knowledge.
Even though forty years have passed from Van der Post being invited to a lavish Georgian banquet and writing about its peculiar etiquette, I was happy to read that Górecki experienced the same hospitality and jotted down similar observations. The pages regarding the towerhouses dating back to the 13th century that are still inhabited in some remote and beautiful regions of Georgia are excellent and reminded me of the Albanian towerhouses depicted by Kadare in his novels. Which was a delightful deja-vu.
Whereas the book is thin and somewhat disjointed, it is also very informative and a pleasure to read. My only criticism is that the last chapter might have been placed at the beginning of 'La terra del vello d'oro' as it's extremely helpful in contextualize Georgia and its debated regions such as Abkhazia, South and North Ossetia. But this is only a minor detail.
Even though I'd be more careful to call Wojciech Górecki the heir of Ryszard Kapuscinski, I'm certainly eager to read that second book by him that I bought for he knows his topics well and is a brilliant reporter.
*Please note that my review refers to the Italian edition of the book. Unfortunately, it looks like this book is not yet available in English translation. The title I put is (my) literal translation of the one chosen for the Italian edition.