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Stringer
Cover of Stringer
Stringer
A Reporter's Journey in the Congo

In the powerful travel-writing tradition of Ryszard Kapuscinski and V.S. Naipaul, a haunting memoir of a dangerous and disorienting year of self-discovery in one of the world's unhappiest countries.

In the powerful travel-writing tradition of Ryszard Kapuscinski and V.S. Naipaul, a haunting memoir of a dangerous and disorienting year of self-discovery in one of the world's unhappiest countries.

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  • From the book Excerpted from the hardcover edition


    1

    I was already feeling perturbed. There was something perhaps about the bar's large parasol umbrellas, lit starkly by the hanging naked bulbs. Or it could have been the figures flitting behind them, beyond my view.

    I had sensed his presence, his curt movements. But they did not seem malicious. Then he lunged for my table, and I found myself running in the night. I ran with all my force. And I would have said I was faster than him. But I might have imagined my own speed from the people who passed me by like pages in a flip-book: mamas with bananas on their heads, vendors carting cages of birds and monkeys, the crocodile-leather pointy-shoed bureaucrats. They turned to stare at me, the whites of their eyes stabbing the darkness and piercing my face, my side, my back. Who are you looking at? He's the thief, stop him!

    I squinted to keep sight. His form was like an illusion—feet leaping off the earth, driving up plumes of dust. His hands pulled at his falling shorts; and when he looked back to see I was still running he screamed in surprise, showing dull teeth, and turned into a narrow passage.

    We regressed from the city. The alleys amplified the darkness and my shallow breaths filled the spaces between the walls that rose on either side—gray walls high and long between which I ran blindly, without thinking—until we came to a field. And for a moment I lost sight of him.

    I turned sharply, feeling a panic rise.

    "You!" He appeared, empty-handed—and jeering at me, almost as if he wanted to play. A sickly chicken of a boy, with limbs extending like antennae from his belly. "You have my phone!" I yelled. "Té! I refuse!" The ground was wet and yielding, covered in waste, cans, wrappers. The smell was rotten. It was like nothing I had known. A landfill in the middle of the city. Of what was I afraid?

    "I'll give you money."

    "How much?" He wiped his shoulder over his mouth; his face was covered in sweat.

    A group of children skipped toward us. I reached into my pocket for my notebook and wallet. The boy turned, and I saw a wound on a hairless part of his scalp.

    "Keep the phone"—I pointed into my palm—"I only need the numbers inside." He smiled, as if smelling a trick. I felt frustrated at my carelessness. I didn't have money to hand out, and those numbers were precious. I was new in the country and had few friends. Most meetings had been gained by chance, in the street, at the odd conference, in a waiting room or at a bar; they had not been planned, necessary, or even particularly friendly. And yet they had taken on, in my mind, a great importance.

    Kinshasa, when I first arrived, had felt giant, overwhelming. The scenes on the roads, the people moving from here to there, the languages, gestures, stares—the smallest rituals had seemed imbued with meaning and purpose, and the city appeared as a collusion of secrets only the locals shared. But these strangers I had met—journalists, businessmen, minor politicians—had become bearings from which I navigated the confusion. With them I constructed a sense of place, and for moments felt part of the mystery. So the phone contained my personal map; and without it I felt lost, as though I had newly arrived for a second time and was again without connection. The bewilderment was now greater. And having exhausted the initial excitement of the new place, I now found the city distant, hostile.

    My sigh came out heavy and sharp; it startled the boy. Already he was stepping away. I half tripped forward and yelled,...
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, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, The Telegraph, The Guardian, the International Herald Tribune, and the Huffington Post. 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.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    January 27, 2014
    In 2005, Sundaram withdrew from Yale without completing his Ph.D. in mathematics and declined a job offer from Goldman Sachs, as he tells in this impressive narrative. Instead, in 2005, he opted for the precarious life of freelance reporter in one of the world’s most desperate and downtrodden countries in the world—Congo. Settling in Kinshasa with a local family, Sundaram begins accommodating himself to the harsh realties of daily life while struggling to survive as a fledging reporter in an unfamiliar and strange environment. When Sundaram lands a position as a stringer for the AP news service he gains a bit of stability. He makes professional contacts, writes more stories, and garners a bit of prestige. He leaves Kinshasa, wanting to experience more of the country, traveling upriver on a barge to a region where multinational companies log the forests and introduce local populations to the effects of globalization. When war breaks out over disputed election results, Sundaram ventures into the fray, holing up in a margarine factory and becoming one of the few reporters in the war zone filing stories. The author skillfully captures the smallest details of life in a destitute land, blending the sordid history of Congo with his battle to forge a career in a troubled and forsaken country.

  • Kirkus

    November 1, 2013
    The former Associated Press stringer in Kinshasa details his year of living dangerously amid the chaos of post-Mobutu Congo. Sundaram was working toward a doctorate in mathematics at Yale when, suddenly tired of abstraction, he began craving a taste of hard-edged reality. He got his wish. A New Haven bank employee with Congolese roots arranged for him to live with her relatives, a married couple and their infant daughter, in a modest house (by Congo standards) in the rough-and-tumble Victoire section of that country's capital. Sundaram, who had turned down a job with Goldman Sachs for the opportunity, arrived with a few thousand dollars and the quixotic idea of becoming a freelance correspondent. After some misadventures, including the theft at gunpoint of his entire bankroll, the author managed to get a gig with AP, which was looking for someone to help cover the upcoming election in 2006 between Joseph Kabila, son of the assassinated rebel who deposed longtime strongman Mobutu in 1997, and his vice president, Jean-Pierre Bemba. Sundaram weaves back and forth between his strange personal odyssey and the country's tortured history and politics, with his own experiences and sensations meriting most of the attention. Much of the time, while encountering ordinary Congolese and expatriate merchants, journalists and U.N. employees, he waited for something to happen. Finally, he went in search of news, taking arduous trips into the rain forest, where he found pygmies losing ground to greed and globalization, and to the east, where warlords and militias threatened local villages and U.N. forces. Books by journalists usually keep the focus outward, but Sundaram has more of a novelist's interior sensibility and a talent for describing anxiety and ennui. Readers may be tempted to compare him to Conrad and Naipaul, but he has a strong, unique style all his own.

    COPYRIGHT(2013) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    August 1, 2013
    Winner of a Reuters journalism award in 2006, Sundaram exchanged mathematics for journalism, starting out as a stringer in dangerous Congo with little in the way of experience or contacts. This memoir sees him struggling to learn his craft while battling malaria, isolation, financial woes, and the tendency of editors to send in name reporters when a big story breaks. In addition, Sundaram offers an intensely rendered account of the immeasurable sadness of Congo through the tumultuous 2006 elections. Copyright 013 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Jon Stewart, The Daily Show "A remarkable book about the lives of people in Congo."
  • Ted Koppel, NPR "This is a book about a young journalist's coming of age, and a wonderful book it is, too."
  • Fareed Zakaria, CNN "An excellent debut book of reportage on the Congo."
  • Kirkus Reviews "Books by journalists usually keep the focus outward, but Sundaram has more of a novelist's interior sensibility and a talent for describing anxiety and ennui. Readers may be tempted to compare him to Conrad and Naipaul, but he has a strong, unique style all his own."
  • Booklist "Excerpts from his notebooks chronicle personal reflections as he struggles to learn how to report from an unruly land, harboring doubts and misgivings and a feverish desperation to make sense of one of the deadliest places in the world. [It's] a breathtaking look at a troubled nation exploited by greedy forces within and without."
  • Publishers Weekly "The author skillfully captures the smallest details of life in a destitute land, blending the sordid history of Congo with his battle to forge a career in a troubled and forsaken country."
  • Library Journal "The authenticity is palpable."
  • Barbara Demick, author of Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea and Logavina Street: Life and Death in a Sarajevo Neighborhood "Anjan Sundaram's prose is so luscious, whether he's writing about mathematics or colonial architecture or getting mugged, that the words come alive and practically dance on the page. Stringer, his first book, about a year-long journey to Congo; reading it made me feel like I'd follow him anywhere in the world."
  • Pico Iyer, author of The Lady and the Monk, The Global Soul, and The Man Within My Head "What a debut! It's not often one reads a book of reportage from a difficult foreign country with such fever-dream immediacy, such tense intelligence, and such an artful gift for story-telling. Here is a commanding new writer who comes to us with the honesty, the intensity, and the discerning curiosity of the young Naipaul."
  • Pankaj Mishra, author of From the Ruins of Empire and < "In lucid and searing prose, and with bracing self-awareness, Anjan Sundaram explores a country that has long been victimized by the ever-renewed greeds of the modern world. Stringer is one of those very rare books of journalism that transcend their genre--and destiny as ephemera--and become literature."
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    Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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