My essay/book review in the US outlet The Markaz Review is on a new book by the great writer, Anjan Sundaram, Break-Up: A Reporter’s Marriage Amid a Central African War:
The Central African Republic (CAR) is mostly ignored in the mainstream media, but in sparse depictions it’s often portrayed as a faraway nation bedeviled by an endless and bloody war over valuable natural resources including gold, timber and diamonds. Add Western media apathy and ingrained journalistic racism towards Africans and it’s unsurprising that most people don’t have a clue what’s happening in CAR.
“For years I had heard about this country,” writes journalist Anjan Sundaram in his startling new book, Breakup: A Reporter’s Marriage Amid a Central African War. He points out that foreigners may have heard of CAR through the “infamous” Lord’s Resistance Army, a brutal Christian rebel group that operates across CAR, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and South Sudan.
The group, which had launched a rebellion in Uganda, “sought shelter in its [CAR’s] forests as US soldiers hunted it down.” Otherwise, “[the Central African Republic] made the news when power shifted and even then, hardly. From the outside, it could seem like an oblivion, a country in the high seas.”
Sundaram’s descent into hell across landlocked CAR is narrated against the backdrop of his crumbling marriage while his wife, Nat, is in Canada with their young daughter, Raphaelle. He travels around CAR with a Human Rights Watch researcher, Lewis Mudge, telling the reader that together they’re a more effective team because they are “recording the emotions of the war” and “gathering testimony of people’s courage.”
What transpires is a journey through an apocalyptic, battle-scarred landscape where, due to the perilous security situation, even local citizens have no idea what’s happening in their vicinity. Fear is etched on the faces of every civilian whom Sundaram and Mudge meet.
Sundaram isn’t a war junkie, endlessly drawn to documenting conflict, but his disarming gentleness masks a determination to uncover what most Western reporters don’t because there’s little glory in publicity or accolades in doing so.