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Hour of the gun
on 13 July 2014
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).
Witnessing his hosts' reverses and the sabotaging of their efforts to get free of poverty by other family members, Anjan becomes, in effect, the breadwinner of the family. He learns to dread their insistence to go along with them whenever there is a family crisis as it usually means he's paying. On one occasion he is spurred on in his journalistic efforts by the family matriarch's declaring 'it's not enough' after handing over several hundred dollars to keep the family afloat. I can only guess at the resentment she felt at being so beholden. Certainly, she didn't feel any gratitude. Returning from a dangerous journey into the interior, for instance, he finds his rat infested room hasn't been cleaned. Interestingly, he doesn't mention any leave taking when finally, exhausted and having made his name he heads for the airport and home. I imagine it all ended very badly.
An absorbing read, I award 5 stars.