I suppose there is some grace in being rendered into so niggardly an existence that buying books seems like a reckless luxury. So one has to be content with reading free excerpts that publishers give out to tease buyers into buying books. Or, alternatively, one has to reserve a copy at the neighborhood library in the hope that you will get to it before senior citizens do.
Such thoughts come to mind this morning as I read free excerpts from Anjan Sundaram’s much celebrated book ‘Stringer’. Sundaram was on The Daily Show last night telling Jon Stewart about his decision on a whim to visit Congo* and report from an enormously resource rich African country ravaged by violence for decades.
It is weird that every time someone mentions the Congo, the devastatingly telling title of a famous book by Edward Behr pops up in my mind: “Anyone here been raped and speaks English?” I read Behr’s brilliant account of the conflict in Congo in the late 1970s. The brutally practical but unforgivably insensitive question was asked of the European survivors of a siege in Stanleyville in eastern Congo in November, 1964.
This was one of the books that subconsciously made me want to be a journalist. As I look back over my 32 years in the profession I do have to seriously wonder if Behr and I are members of the same profession. Sure, Behr was a great journalist. As for me, well, I read free excerpts of books which I cannot afford to buy and write about them in a blog that practically no one reads other than my brilliantly well-read and scholarly nephrologist friend, Dr. Charles Langs.
Coming back to Sundaram—because this post is about him—whatever little one has read of his writing in his account out of the same Congo, tells me that he can write in that spare yet evocative Naipaulian style. The description of his book on his website reads: “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.” It must be brilliant to be Naipaul.
The title of the book is a very familiar term in my profession to describe those reporters who are not in the formal employment of any media outlet but they are tied to them by an invisible string. A stringer is basically a journalist without any benefits other than starvation wages. That string can be snapped any time.
Congo is a terribly tragic story where some five million people have been killed for reasons which no longer make sense, if they did indeed make sense at all even when Behr wrote his masterpiece. Blessed with rich natural resources this country in the heart of Africa has inspired many writers, the most famous, of course, being Joseph Conrad and Naipaul. In a piece for the New York review of Books in June, 1975, Naipaul wrote: “The Congo, which used to be a Belgian colony, is now an African kingdom and is called Zaire. It appears to be a nonsense name, a sixteenth-century Portuguese corruption, some Zairois will tell you, of a local word for “river.” So it is as if Taiwan, reasserting its Chinese identity, were again to give itself the Portuguese name of Formosa. The Congo River is now called the Zaire, as is the local currency, which is almost worthless.”
Here is an excerpt from Sundaram’s book:
My posts are known to lack cohesion as well as literary or philosophical center. This post is an example of that. I have just put some lines together in the hope that I successfully go through my daily motion of writing something, anything.
* It used to be called the Congo but I find that most people no longer use ‘the’ any more.