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Stringer: A Reporter's Journey in the Congo

Stringer: A Reporter's Journey in the Congo [Kindle Edition]

Anjan Sundaram
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Product Description

Product Description

Written with startling beauty and acuity, Stringer is an account of a year and a half that Anjan Sundaram spent in the Congo working on the bottom rung of the Associated Press. It was an intense period that would take him deep into the shadowy city of Kinshasa, to the dense rainforests that still evoke Conrad's vision, and to the heart of Africa's great war, culminating in the historic and violent multiparty elections of 2006. Along the way he would go on a joyride with Kinshasa's feral children, fend off its women desperate for an escape route, and travel with an Indian businessman hunting for his fortune.

About the Author

Anjan Sundaram is an award-winning journalist who has reported from Africa and the Middle East for the New York Times and the Associated Press. His writing has also appeared in Foreign Policy, Fortune, the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Telegraph, Guardian and the International Herald Tribune. He has been interviewed by the BBC World Service and Radio France Internationale for his analysis of the conflict in Congo. He received a Reuters journalism award in 2006 for his reporting on Pygmy tribes in Congo's rain forest. He currently lives in Kigali, Rwanda, with his wife.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 487 KB
  • Print Length: 289 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0385537751
  • Publisher: Atlantic Books (1 May 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #28,749 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hour of the gun 13 July 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I had previously read 'Blood River', Tim Butcher's journey through the Congo following a route of Stanley. Although the book was an eye-opener to a part of Africa I had only vaguely registered, the reason for the journey never quite captured me. so when I read the reviews on this one, I bought it. Anjan Sundaram gained a mathematics degree at a prestigious U.S. university and, with the offer of a job for life with Goldman Sachs, threw it all up for a career in journalism in one of the most dangerous parts of the world. His motivation seems to have been the desire to make a difference with his life and reaction to growing up under the auspices of a repressive regime. (I have to add here that he went out to the Congo unaccredited and got the job as a stringer - a journalist paid by each word - out of grim necessity; he was robbed of all his money through a wrong word). Upon hearing of his decision, his mother sat down and cried.

A Congolese secretary living in America arranges for him to lodge with her family in Kinshasa, on the understanding he doesn't tell her family where she lives. She doesn't want them 'camping out' all over her new life in America. It was this aspect of Congolese life which really captured my attention. There used to be a phrase in the arts 'kitchen sink drama', that is drama depicting real life in all its reality and squalor. It is Anjan's life with his Congolese hosts which brings home the desperateness of life in the Congo for the everyman Congolese. (As he finds out, atrocities in the Congo are on such an epic and repetitive scale it is the unusual which captures the attention of the news desk editor).
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars alarmingly awakening 21 Aug 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I never want to visit but admire those are brave enough to go and see for themselves this tragic country
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written 18 Jun 2014
This a beautifully written book; it reads almost like a novel and the author manages to weave together personal emotion and experience with a view of the wider picture. The account of family and community life in Kinshasa is fascinating, while the author's haphazard attempts to break into the world of journalism are both funny and moving.

One gripe: Describing sex alongside food as a 'basic need' that poorly paid and provisioned soldiers loot at will is a bit off. The sooner men realise that casual sex is a want that can be controlled and that women don't owe them sex. the better it will be for the DRC (and every other country). In every other area of the book the author is very sympathetic to women, highlighting the issues they contend with on a daily basis living in one of the most dangerous countries in the world.
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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars War reporting is hell 6 Dec 2013
By N. B. Kennedy - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
War reporting is a glamorous job, right? Wrong! That's one of the big messages you get from Anjan Sundaram's book about reporting from war-torn and poverty-stricken Congo.

Mr. Sundaram was a Yale graduate with a promising future in mathematics, when he increasingly felt he was missing out on something. "The beauty in America and in mathematics had become cloying," he writes. "In America, I was beginning to feel trapped and suffocated, and removed from the world." So, apropos of nothing, he decides to become a journalist and report from a depleted and desperate African country. He enters the country not even knowing how he will support himself. Through a series of fortunate events, he becomes a "stringer" -- a freelancer -- for the Associated Press. It's not lucrative, but it's something.

It's a tough life. Mr. Sundaram lives in a sort of slum with an African family. He shares a room with rats and mosquitoes (and whatever female wanders in to stake a claim on his life). The plumbing is unspeakable and he has only a fan to cool himself. And even that gets appropriated when the family decides it needs it more than he does. The city he's in, Kinshasa, is a dark and deadly place. He is robbed at gunpoint and tension is building as an election approaches. Riots are hinted at. "When this country explodes, you take care, my friend," says a local businessman. "We'll kill all the foreigners and burn this city."

The appalling conditions and the culture shock take its toll. Mr. Sundaram seems perpetually exhausted, drained of energy and on the verge of contracting malaria. He is lonely and depressed. He doesn't actually get to report from war-torn areas (the AP sends in full-time reporters when the action heats up), but even when he stumbles on news he can sell to AP, his spirits aren't lifted by seeing his byline on a story. I wish the publisher had included some of his articles in an appendix. It would have provided some balance. From the book, you don't get any sense of whether anything about this gig was satisfying for Mr. Sundaram. He has won awards and has since written for the New York Times, Foreign Policy magazine and many other national publications, so he has certainly succeeded in his adopted field.

Perhaps he simply chose the worst place in the world to start. I have just finished David MacLean's The Answer to the Riddle Is Me, which is set in India. Mr. MacLean seems charmed by Hyderabad, the chaotic city in which he lives, even when he is living a nightmare. Mr. Sundaram seems happiest when he is reporting on the people of Congo, rather than on politics and unrest. I hope he is getting to do more of that in Rwanda, where he lives and works now.
36 of 41 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Certainly a well-written journalistic account of a brutal place, but a bit oversold by the pre-release publicity 5 Dec 2013
By Nathan Webster - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I thought this book was okay, but I feel it was a bit oversold. This is an interesting and descriptive account of an out-of-his-element rookie reporter navigating dangerous and strange surroundings - but I feel like his original 2005 reporting (which I Googled and read) is more interesting than this memoir of the life he was leading at the time.

I don't see any "feverish desperation" (besides him actually having a fever at one point). Living in the Congo was certainly a challenge, but to me, the craziness the book description and advance reviews promised did not come to pass. It's tough, yes, but I've read a lot of books about rough places.

The final flaw, before I get to what I liked, is there are not enough Congolese represented in close, personal fashion. The people who get the closest look are fellow foreigners, and other Indians, and while his Congolese landlord is a constant character, the rest of the country's actual population sometimes seems too much like window dressing, and not real people - or they exist to move the 'plot' while never being participants in the story. Again, his original reporting does the story of the Congolese much better justice.

But - part of my lackluster opinion is because I went in with a different expectation. So I will try to steer potential readers in the right direction.

What you will get from this book is an up-close look at what a chaotic culture the Congo is to navigate for anybody not at the very top of the country's food chain. Beset by violence, political intrigue, and massive corruption, the city of Kinshasa is essentially an ungovernable conglomeration of chaos. We, the western readers, probably have no clue about this - we understand "city" in a way totally different from the kind of "city" that Kinshasa is.

Sundaram is a tight, controlled author with careful and thoughtful prose. This is well-edited and not fluffy, wordy language for the sake of showing off. He stays on-point and he never bogs down in melodrama - an accomplishment given the brutal surroundings.

The wartime violence is usually off-screen, but it is a threat, as are coups and rebellions by political rivals. Sundaram does a good job of giving a view of that culture, even if the people are described from a somewhat distant point of view.

Sundaram's grinding life as an AP stringer is certainly nothing to be jealous about - he has to hustle for every story, and when 'real' news hit, the AP sends in their main reporters to cover things - so after doing the initial legwork, he doesn't even get paid!

From that point of view, this book is interesting and informative. I was intrigued by this up-close look at the Congo, which I guess I wanted to imagine was slightly more stabilized than it is. Although these accounts are eight years old.

Because I went in expecting more of a surrealistic life-and-death journey I was left a little flat, but I think if you go in with the right expectation the book is an interesting and very well-crafted look at an uncommon place. And, Sundaram's original AP reporting is well worth the time to research and read.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An abrupt turn from Mathematics in Yale to the killing Fields of Congo 7 Jan 2014
By Raghu Nathan - Published on
Right in the first chapter of the book, the author writes:"I had left for Congo in a sort of rage, a searing emotion. The feeling was of being abandoned, of acute despair. The world had become too beautiful. The beauty was starting to cave in on itself—revealing a core of crisis. One had nothing to hold on to......Part of my desire was to see a crisis. I had lived in man’s genius for so long, I wanted to know our destructive capacities.”. The author was a young 22- year old Mathematics Graduate in Yale at this time. As I read this, I thought, 'Wow, won't he be chewed out for saying this as one more journalist, gawking at Africa's tragedies?". On reflection, I thought, "After all, the Polish journalist and Yale alumni Ryszard Kapuściński, to whom the author is compared to nowadays, also wandered in Africa in the 1960s and witnessed coups, mass killings and communist revolutions and wrote about them to great acclaim. So, why not Anjan Sundaram?"

Anjan Sundaram grew up in Dubai until the age of ten, completed his schooling in the sheltering environment of Rishi Valley in Bangalore, India and then went to Yale for Graduate studies in Mathematics. Soon, he decides to experience man's destructive capacities by going to the Democratic Republic of Congo where nearly four million people have been killed in the war for its minerals and metals and other wealth. He reaches Kinshasa, stays in the poor neighbourhood of Victoire with a Congolese family, gets robbed at gunpoint soon after and starts experiencing the country up close and personal. He manages to get a job as a stringer, reporting for AP, and travels into the conflict zones in the north of the country, sending dispatches on the killings, kidnappings and on the abject poverty of the country. He meets the warlords, gets to see the mass graves and manages to get embedded with the UN soldiers as they engage the rebels in combat deep in the jungles of Congo. He also finds that there are deeply entrenched international businesses for whom it is advantageous to keep the conflict going. Neighboring countries like Uganda and Rwanda control Congolese mines and profit from the smuggling that thrives on the conflict. Wealthy Indian businessmen, both native and from India, trade as middlemen in these conflict minerals. US based companies like Phelps Dodge which has mining operations here in copper and cobalt, receive backing and support from the US govt. IKEA gets wood from these forests. The author travels up the Congo river by boat with an Indian to find a piece of land he had purchased in the jungles hoping to get rich from it. In Bunia, he stays with a Punjabi Pakistani who traffics in arms to the militias. He tells the author that most UN soldiers in Bunia are from Pakistan and they are all into the illegal business of taking gold from the militias and sending them to Karachi. To the north of Bunia, the militias have killed off all the white rhinoceros, not for its horns but to eat. All in all, it is an adventurous foray into Congo and sensitive and compassionate reporting from a man who came to Yale to seek beauty in Mathematics.

There are also powerful observations on Africa from Sundaram, sprinkled along the way in the book. On the relationship of Congolese with Indians, he says, "The Congolese would complain and complain about the Indian but they would accept that only one race treated them worse; the Congolese (the African more generally)".
The author writes tellingly on dictatorship as follows: " Having grown up in a dictatorship in Dubai, I recognized the same elements in Congolese society - a certain acquiescence, a cloistering within small ambitions, a paucity of confidence in oneself, and the utter belief in the power of one man." He elaborates further that dictators do not invoke God any more to claim their divine right to power. Instead the successful dictator uses the tools of liberty - elections, art, media ....they create at once a terror of his presence and a fear of his loss." This is brilliant prose, reminiscent of V.S. Naipaul in his novel 'A Bend in the River'.

Whenever one reads such books, there is always the troubling question of morality in journalists rushing to conflict zones to witness man's cruelty to man. Anjan Sundaram was mauled this year for this book at the Jaipur Literary festival by the British African writer Kwasi Karteng for being the 'classic African tourist'. However, I feel that such reportage have contributed positively towards betterment across the world. Journalists have come to India and Bangladesh and exposed child labour in the leather industry in India and horrible working conditions in the textile industry in Bangladesh. These exposes have resulted in better working conditions in these countries. It is intrepid journalists like the author who have shown us that all our cell phones and tablets depend on cadmium, tin and tantalum mined in the war torn Congo and transported by vested interests. In the past, it took historians decades to bring to light the atrocities of the Belgians and the French in cultivating rubber and mining copper out of the Congo. Thanks to journalists like the author, we get to know the truth sooner now so that the world can organize and respond more quickly.

The history of Congo is a heart-wrenching tale of power falling from the sky once every twenty to thirty years on yet another dictator and resulting in yet another disappointment in the country not realizing its potential, in spite of the bounty that Nature has bestowed upon it. This book adds one more recent chapter to that history.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A keen observer of a difficult country 28 Jan 2014
By Constant Reader - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I bought this book for my new kindle after hearing Anjan Sundarum on the Jon Stewart show. So glad I did. A few years ago Sundarum, a math student at Yale, of Indian descent and born in Dubai, decided to change his path and immerse himself in the Congo, aka the Belgian Congo under King Leopold and Zaire in the reign of Mobutu, who had assassinated, with CIA approval, Patrice Lumumba, the country's best hope for a real democracy. This is the Congo backstory that Sundarum uses as his touchstone.

Sundarum chose a living arrangement with a family in one of Kinshasa's slums (he had no money for a good hotel room, nor did he want one), slowly developed his contacts, and became a stringer for the Associated Press, traveling to places in the lawless gold and diamond-rich country where important journalists never ventured.

What he produced in "Stringer" is far more than a tale of a young man's adventure. It is an illuminating account of how, and why, one African country blessed with great natural riches has continually failed to lift its people out of poverty. The causes are complex. Occasionally I found Sundarum's reasoning a bit too pat. But he succeeds brilliantly in explaining the Congo like no other writer I've read.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Stringer 17 Feb 2014
By H. Gerety - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Not my favorite book on central Africa, nor perhaps my favorite book on the DRC, but interesting nonetheless. Parts of the book are repulsive, hopeless, frustrating – but it would hardly be a book about the DRC without those qualities. Although no one would expect it to be a family-friendly book, it may be worthwhile to mention that there are quite a few sexually explicit passages, all of them troubling.

Sundaram was a little opaque about his background throughout the book – I spent some time wondering if he was American, or an Indian citizen, and he mentions at one point living as a child in the Middle East – so being more clear and up-front about his personal background would help more in parsing the book, I think.

The real gem in this book is Sundaram’s piece on the pygmies who live inland in the Congo. In it, Sundaram brings you face to face with the unseen daily struggles of many rural Africans, and the loss of traditional wisdom hand-in-hand with increasing dependence on imported goods. One item the pygmies purchased was salt; in the past, their ancestors had known how to extract salt from plants, but this knowledge has been lost.

My recommendation: read this book for the pygmy piece (or just read the pygmy piece), and then read Tim Butcher’s “Blood River” for more exploration of inland DRC.
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