To Read Is to Fly

“To read is to fly: it is to soar to a point of vantage which gives a view over wide terrains of history, human variety, ideas, shared experience and the fruits of many inquiries.” 
― Alberto Manguel


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Stringer: A Reporter's Journey in the Congo - Anjan Sundaram At the age of 22, Anjan Sundaram seemed to be facing a secure future. A citizen of India who grew up in Dubai, he was completing a Masters in Mathematics at Yale University, and had just received a lucrative job offer from Goldman Sachs. Life seemed predictable, easy.

So he turned down the job offer and traveled to the Congo to work as a journalist. Freelance. With no previous reporting experience.

[b:Stringer: A Reporter's Journey in the Congo|17797358|Stringer A Reporter's Journey in the Congo|Anjan Sundaram||24156925], which will be published in the US in January 2014 by Doubleday, is the story of his 18 months spent in the Congo, culminating in the riots that broke out around the 2006 elections. It is not a history or in-depth analysis of the violent political conditions in the region, which have culminated in over 5,000,000 deaths. It instead is a memoir, focused on a year in which Sundaram left the safety and security of the United States to travel to a region where few journalists were willing to travel, which few Westerners were willing to think about much.

In an interview that he gave to Signposts, he describes his motivations for traveling to the Congo as follows:

"There was certainly a sense of thrill at being witness to history. I was 22 years old. I wanted to see the world in its fullness. I lived with a family that had very primary concerns — there was often no food in the house, the baby was sick. I ate once a day, like them. As a journalist I met warlords, I saw mass graves, and went on military patrols with UN troops. I was embedded with UN soldiers as they attacked rebels in the Congolese jungle. All of this taught me a lot. And it fulfilled a need to see the world, feel a part of it, and understand something of its depth and extent. I felt powerful emotion in these places.

"There was certainly a moral concern as well. Why did we hear so little from this place called Congo in which so many people had died? Why did the world turn away from this war, hardly visit it, and reduce it to two-hundred-word report at the bottom of newspaper pages? There are still too few journalists who live in Congo, experience it, and write from that experience. Too many of the stories we read and hear are by reporters who visit Congo for just a few days."

[b:Stringer: A Reporter's Journey in the Congo|17797358|Stringer A Reporter's Journey in the Congo|Anjan Sundaram||24156925] provides a vivid sense of Sundaram's experiences as a stringer for AP in the Congo. Although he was centered in Kinshasa, he also took some reporting trips into the field. He provides vivid details of his struggles and experiences in both places. The books has some of the flaws of a debut -- for a memoir, it does not always disclose many in-depth examinations of Sundaram's personal development, struggles, or background beyond worrying about where his next story (and paycheck) would come from. Readers may want to already be somewhat familiar with events in Congo in the early and mid-2000s, since, although Sundaram provides some background information, it remains fairly spotty.

In spite of these limitations, [b:Stringer: A Reporter's Journey in the Congo|17797358|Stringer A Reporter's Journey in the Congo|Anjan Sundaram||24156925] is a book that I can recommend. Sundaram has since won an award for his reporting from Reuters, and he has also been published in The New York Times, Foreign Policy magazine, Fortune, the Washington Post and the Guardian. He is a rising star as a journalist, and it will be fascinating to follow his career, especially considering where he started.

I received an ARC of this book via Netgalley, in return for an honest review.

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