The first time you hold the book Stringer by Anjan Sundaram in your hands is with a feeling of suspicion. Pico Iyer from the book jacket announces the arrival of 'a commanding new writer', no less than a 'young Naipaul'. Heavy baggage that--for the reader as well as the writer himself. The subject is no doubt intriguing--about the author's journey in the Congo--the land of Conrad's Heart of Darkness. And it is with this suspicion that I turned the first page.
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 like pages in a flipbook; 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 stopped. I kept the book aside. Something had stirred within me. This was intense. This was fever. And as I began to turn the pages, the fever began to grow. Congo, with all its mystery, its beauty, its darkness, its poverty, its wealth, its warmth and its violence came alive under the pen of this debutante author.
Congo is a land torn apart by conflict and war and a victim of the greed of the modern world. A Belgian king committed genocide during the automobile revolution to pillage Congo for rubber, and later for copper, to wire the world for electricity and Congo's recent conflicts were heightened by the world's growing demand for tin, to make conductors used in almost every electronic circuit. New conflicts arise each passing year--what hasn't changed over the decades and what doesn't change even now is the suffering of the African nation.
It was during a continued period of crisis that Anjan decided to travel to the Congo to be a journalist leaving behind a promising career in academics, inspired as he was by Ryszard Kapuscinski, the journalist best known for his reportage of African revolutions (that Anjan should be compared to Kapuscinski is perhaps unavoidable).
The author takes you deep into Kinshasa and into the heart of 'Africa's great war'. The description of what the author hears and sees is so vivid that it almost becomes a first hand experience for the reader. The reportage is first rate. But above all what stands out are the human characters that Anjan etches out--from the family he lives with, to other journalists working in the field and from young women seeking a ticket out of hell to the businessman he travels with.
The prose is sharp, the observation keen and the narrative taut. Even as the book races towards the finish, you wonder whether you were reading a fascinating fictional drama set in a troubled land but you realize it's all too true and that's what makes this book quite scary and yet beautiful.
Penguin Books; Rs. 399Reproduced From India Today Travel Plus. Copyright 2013. LMIL. All rights reserved.
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