Friday, June 25, 2010

Reporting from the Congo

Just this morning I heard a news report about the murder of a Rwandan journalist by assassins in Kigali. It felt like yet another chapter in the book I had just finished – Not Untrue and Not Unkind by Ed O'Loughlin. The book's main action takes place fifteen years ago in the Congo, after the Rwandan genocide of 1994, but unfortunately history keeps repeating itself.

If you've ever read Graham Greene's “The Quiet American” you may recognize the main character Owen Simmons – a war weary, cynical foreign correspondent. He reports from parts of Africa that required me to keep my atlas handy - Goma, Kinshasa, Kigali, Mbuji-Mayi . He travels with a loose group of reporters and photographers who scramble from one hot spot to the next trying to be first on the scene of the latest rebel uprising or government collapse. They forge strong friendships and loyalties. Simmons is a long term freelance correspondent who disdains a colleague who “made a fortune by turning his three-week assignments into epics of suffering and hope, with titles he stole from an English lit poetry course.” (The title of this book is from Phillip Larkin's poem "Talking in Bed" ).

O’Loughlin reported from Africa for The Irish Times in the 90's, and he clearly knows the territory. At times his style is reportorial, but he includes lyrical descriptions and thoughtful explorations of the moral dilemmas that war reporters can encounter. This is more than a story about war reporting; it is also about complicated relationships and the difficulty involved in ever really understanding another human being.

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