Every journalist has a story to tell. But few have the skill to tell the story so well. Anjan Sundaram's Stringer impresses you from the word go. He wastes no time. Takes you straight to the heart of the action. Constructs the setting with such deftness, that you feel you've just witnessed what you read - a man being robbed by a teenaged boy in the dark alleys of Kinshasa, where deprivation and depravity have come to justify each other.
Through the pages that follow, the author takes you around a country that is cursed by its wealth, introduces you to people "laboriously beautiful and defiant". He shares joints with homeless children who steal to survive, live in a cemetery-turned-garbage-dump and come out of abandoned cars at night like rats.
He revisits Conrad's Mr. Kurtz, delves into the history of a disconnected people, explores the confused and conflicted Congolese identity. "Why did the Congolese choose war? They wanted lives, jobs, a way to express themselves. They found it in war. In it they marked the world, with pickaxe and machete." He gets robbed, struggles to make ends meet, finds himself stranded in the back of beyond, meets a warlord who wears bronze buckled sandals and quotes Kipling! It's a story full of thrill and adventure.
Many reporters would envy Sundaram for having found so much adventure in such a short span of time. Others would wonder why a Yale graduate in math would turn down high paying corporate jobs to go become a stringer in Congo, of all places! He tries to explain but I don't get it.
My favourite book of reportage by a journalist remains Travels with Herodotus by Ryszard Kapuscinski. But it would be unfair to compare a debutant with him, who is anyway being weighed against Naipual.
'Stringer' takes you to the wild, chaotic Congo and leaves you with questions unanswered. It is the account of a year and a half the author spent in Congo reporting for the Associated Press and the New York Times. It is refreshing and better written than many journalistic accounts that get published as books.
Author: Anjan Sundaram; Book: Stringer; Publisher Penguin India