Earlier this month I quit The Economic Times to start my own media company. A colleague gifted me a book called Stringer: A reporter’s journey in the Congo. I’m a very slow reader but this book is so fascinating and grounded that I read it in about a week.
I’m a big fan books authored by journalists. Some of them are legendary (read my listicle of journalists who have become great authors). There is usually a tone of certainty and clarity that makes their writing great. They also tend to write in a matter of fact manner, devoid of fatuous prose.
If I were to make a list of some of the best books written by journalists, I’d add this book written by Anjan Sundaram right on top.
The book, set in Congo during the historic 2006 elections, is a first person narrative by Sundaram, a rookie journalist at the time. He was born in India and went to IIT-Madras for engineering and later to study Math at Yale University in 2005. He then decided to launch a career in journalism, from one of the most unlikeliest places on earth– Congo, a country ravaged by civil wars, dictators and colonial powers for years.
Him being broke and poor in Congo, working as a stringer for Associated Press while trying to support a family he was living with, the elaborate description of Congolese cities, its people and personal observations remind me of Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London. The book is very personal, so it appeals to a lot of us who crave deeper experiences that make life more meaningful.
The book has done extremely well and is critically acclaimed. Rightly so. But at some points, I wish it had emphasised as much on Congo’s history, economics and where it sits in a geo-political context as on Sundaram’s precarious life in Congo. Because I’m pretty sure this will probably the only book I’ll read on Congo unless I want to become a specialist.
If you are looking for a good read, a book to inspire you, go on and pick up this book. Suketu Mehta’s Maximum City is another book that I like in this genre, although it has nothing to do with wars. Mehta chronicles the life of exceptional people in Mumbai– the bar dancer, the Jain businessman who gives up everything, the shooter, the drudgery and small joys that make Bombay the city it is.
The hard work that has gone into the book is evident to anyone who reads it. Sundaram’s mastery of local nuances, capacity to endure extreme conditions, observe and document them in great detail combined with a sense of higher purpose makes this book a must read for journalists.