August 04, 2014
Stringer by Anjan Sundaram
I'm probably in the minority here, but I just couldn't get into this journalist's account of the time he spent in the Congo. As a rule travel books are one of my favored genres, and being as this was not Sundaram's native country I count it as travel in a journalistic capacity.
Sundaram quits pursuing a higher degree in mathematics to become a journalist in the Congo. Why the Congo? A chance meeting with someone in the US enables him to find a place to stay. Plus it's a war torn area is full of news and somewhere a freelancer can find work. So he spends a great deal of time traveling around the Congo and meeting some of the people in it, from the family that he stays with to military leaders and more.
Sundaram doesn't describe himself overly much. We know that he liked math at one point, that he's of Indian descent, and that he didn't mind the hardship of traveling to the Congo. We also know how he feels about people, especially the family that he stays with. But he spends most of his time writing about the people and places that he goes. The family he is honest about describing. Their quirks, flaws, how they can be kind and what happens when they are angry with him. He doesn't hold back at all. And that's the same for all he meets. There are a few unflattering descriptions of people in here. I also thought that while he did describe his interactions, I didn't get a full sense of the personalities of the people he was describing. Especially considering he lived with some of them for awhile.
The writing in this was a bit more flowery than I expected from a journalist writing from a country that has violence in the headlines every day. Very poetic. And I'm sure some people would appreciate it but it made it harder for me to read from a non-fiction perspective. But that was only in parts, in some areas of the book it was very cut and dry and to the point. And I appreciated those sections. It was just hard to mesh the two together for me. I also thought most of the book was spent on him getting to and fro rather than really talking to the people and getting a sense of their daily lives. I know the troubles he went through based on the fact that he was living with them, so there's some through association, but I never really felt as if I knew the complete story behind the family he was staying with or any of the other people he encountered. And the pace felt a bit slow, as if there was stuff going on but the author was removed from it for the majority of the book (although he had a few exciting moments).
I just couldn't get enamored with this book. It has some good parts to it but largely I didn't come away feeling as if I knew anything more about the Congo than I did before.