Henryk Sienkiewicz’s textual testimony to his African experience may again be found in his letters to friends and acquaintances, published in 1893 in a book entitled Listy z Afryki (Letters from Africa). It is quite telling that they were written mostly back in Poland – in Zakopane and Kraków – and some as late as the carnival season of 1892 (nine months after the writer returned to Europe). The impossibility of keeping up correspondence during the stay in Africa is explained to Mścisław Godlewski in the letter of March 2, 1891:
You will surely understand that, while traveling, with the sea rolling, or when straightening things out in Zanzibari hotels (which have very popular, noisy taprooms) or, worst of all, living in a tent flooded by rainwater or scorched by direct sunlight, I am unable to create anything even remotely artistic, and I plan to sit down to writing only after the journey is over, i.e. at the end of April. It is indeed physically impossible to do otherwise.
Also other, unpublished letters sent from Africa to, for example, Godlewski, Leo, and the Szetkiewicz family, contain largely consistent passages which seem to bear out the fact that there was not much for Sienkiewicz to write about. An interesting supplement to the writer’s perspective on the journey can be found in an account by Jan Tyszkiewicz, his young fellow traveler who carried on a more regular correspondence with his family.
Listy z Afryki itself does not make for interesting reading, but, if interpreted in the context of Sienkiewicz’s biography, it could offer some interesting insights. All the more so as the author was one of the most important personalities among those who shaped the Polish discourse on Africa.