I just finished The Shadow of the Sun by Ryszard Kapuscinski, a Polish journalist who lived in Africa during the unraveling of colonialism, the rebirth of a continent. The book begins in Ghana, which, in 1957, became the first African country to be decolonized from European imperialism and ignited a flurry of coups and revolutions and even some peaceful separations for a continent that the West had held captive for as long as the West had known about it.
It is a truly unusual experience to read a story of an exotic place that you have actually seen. The pastel stuccoed walls are not vivid because of the writer’s evocative language, but because you have actually seen them, and not only in pictures. You have in fact lived in them. They are less a part of his story as they are a part of your very own memory. So the “distinct smell of the tropics” is not so much distinct as it is familiar.
You become defensive, reading objectivity as cold and critical––criticism of a place that was once home, criticism of others who were once family. And suddenly you realize––or understand––that this place has become you without your even realizing it. Or maybe in some way, it has been you all along.