Friday, April 14, 2023

Q&A with Anjan Sundaram


Photo by Freddy Bikumbi



Anjan Sundaram is the author of the new memoir Breakup: AMarriage in Wartime. His other books include Stringer: A Reporter's Journey in the Congo.



Q: What inspired you to write your new memoir, and how was the book’s title chosen?


A: There is an underexpressed tension between public service work and one's responsibilities to family. I experienced this first-hand as a war correspondent with a newborn daughter, and this tension--my loyalties to both--drive the story in Breakup: A Marriage in Wartime.


The title reflects how the Central African Republic, the country I'm reporting on, was split by its civil war, while my marriage became strained and broke up. My marriage gave me the courage to do my war correspondence, but ultimately, my reporting damaged my marriage.


Q: The writer Abraham Verghese said of the book, “I marvel at those journalists who put their lives in peril covering conflicts in countries that most people don't know exist...Sundaram's unflinching reflections on his inner conflict--his doubts, his terror, and the toll his work takes on his marriage--are even more admirable.” What do you think of that description, particularly regarding the relationship between work and personal life?


A: Our work and our families are both essential parts of our lives--and, I would argue, who we are. Some of us are faced with a terrible choice between them. I don't believe one should have to choose between public service work and one's family. And yet, there has long been a tension between the two.


It has so happened that my work is an important part of how I express myself to my daughter--how I point her to the fact that a useful life can be lived in service to others, and how ultimately, despite the many losses and sadnesses that this work entails, such a life is fulfilling, happy and meaningful.


Q: What impact did it have on you to write this book?


A: Writing this book was cathartic and healing. Documenting the story, and remembering and writing down the kindnesses and love that I had received from my marriage, helped me come to terms with an incredibly difficult divorce, and the almost-impossible choice I had been faced with: how do you choose between your work, which is an important part of you, and living with your child, who is a part of you as well?


I don't think there are any easy answers, and the purpose of this book is to open this question, which is rarely discussed among frontline human rights workers and war reporters, even though the experience of loss, separation, and estrangement is common.


Q: Have you been back to the Central African Republic in more recent years?


A: It is dangerous for me to return to the Central African region due to threats I have received from the Rwandan government after the publication of my last book, Bad News: Last Journalists in a Dictatorship, which describes how many Rwandan journalists were killed, disappeared or imprisoned after they criticized the Rwandan President. So, unfortunately, my travel to the region has been restricted, or conducted in secret.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I am writing a novel about mathematics and technology.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Anjan Sundaram.

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