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Book Review: Stringer: A Reporter's Journey in the Congo


A land torn asunder
MAYANK SINGH | Issue Dated: April 14, 2013, New Delhi
Tags : Anjan Sundaram | Penguin publication's book | Book review | Stringer: A Reporter’s Journey in the Congo |

Violence has become synonymous with Congo. Explosion of violence in Congo has been hitting headlines incessantly. Also, in recent times, Angelina Jolie has been visiting often as UNHCR goodwill ambassador to meet the women suffering due to war still ravaging. This is clearly indicative of the precarious situation in Congo. The situation was no less dangerous when in 2006 Anjan Sundaram had taken the decision to go to Congo to get something ‘to hold on to’ and work as a journalist. His transformation from a mathematics scholar under the tutelage of Serge Lang, a legend of mathematical theory, to a reporter on ground was encompassing.  He ‘broke with’ America. Congo ‘consumed’ him.

This book, Stringer- A Reporter’s Journey in the Congo, is all about Sundaram’s experience on the ground - replete with a journalist’s struggle to get a foothold in a place which was unpredictable. The way he has cloaked his personal experience with words is very smooth. The book begins with the lines, ‘I was already feeling perturbed.’ It initiates a reader into Sundarm’s run to save himself from the pitfalls ahead.

Family of Jose and Nana hosted Sundaram in Kinshasha and their house served as the anchor for him to explore the places around, consequently meeting the local people and his ‘aide’ Mossi. Mossi, as described by Sundaram, was like a close support and his description is that of a friend in need. ‘Mossi Mwassi was a refugee from South Africa. He had a short crop of grey hair.’ His face screwed up when he saw Nana. But Mossi was undeniably helpful: he knew all the journalists and also which stories were hot’. Sundaram’s way with words enbales him to capture every change of scene to perfection. When it begins to feel that the description of Congo is stretching somewhat, he shifts to Serge Lang. At other times, he gets back to America to make the reader understand the circumstances from which he reached the house of Jose and Nana. Annie was Sundaram’s bank teller and Jose and Nana were her in-laws.

The readers will enjoy the change of scene as they are at the right time. But the best is the way even the minute details have been put into words. This makes one travel to the very spot about which Sundaram is writing or become a part of the experience which Sundaram underwent.

Writing about his return to Jose and Nana’s house after he was forced to give away his phone and most importantly the numbers saved in it, Sundaram says, “People swelled towards us like a sea. We sat in an old Volkswagen whose twelve cushioned seats had been pulled out and replaced with wooden benches; soon we were more than thirty inside, cramped side by side, hands between our knees. We squeezed more for the women who brought in her drooling infant. The windows were sealed shut, so there was no breeze, and inside it was suffocating. The human smell engulfed us.”

Sundaram lived in a ‘dingy room’ but this had put him close to people and felt the ‘pulse of the people’. This, as Mossi had said, was good to ‘live cheap, move like the locals and discuss the issues that mattered to them.’

The book is about the way Sundaram managed to gain a little balance in a completely strange place and then moved around to find stories which led him to report about militias and their attacks. There are also people from India and Pakistan who are as important as the local citizens. Sundaram reported the violent events at a place called Fataki and he was helped by his Pakistani friend Ali who gave him the necessary details and where to go.

Apart from the way Sundaram has narrated the entire experience, it also brings to the fore the way he took initiatives and his friendship and approach of an ordinary man, but with strong mind, kept him going even to the most difficult places.

Thanks to the vivid first hand description that Sundaram provides of Congo, the reader is able to understand the ravages that Congo has faced simply in order to satiate the greed of the people who are hardly aware of the predicament of the land.

Even as Sundaram was on the way out of Congo, it was witnessing the outbreak of another round of violence. He writes, “A Kabila spokesman was announcing that the parties had reached a truce. Cesse-feu. Cesse-Feu. Cease fire.  The phrase repeated. I called UN and confirmed that it was true. But the shooting continued around us. Perhaps the troops had not been informed.” 

Author: Anjan Sundaram
Publisher: Penguin      
Edition:  Hardbound
ISBN: 978-0-670-08660-3
Pages: 230 
Price: Rs 399

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017