Radio Congo: Signals of Hope from Africa’s Deadliest War

Ben Rawlence, Author
Ben Rawlence. Oneworld (NBN, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-85168-927-9
Hardcover - 256 pages - 978-1-78074-095-9
Paperback - 303 pages - 978-1-85168-965-1
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Though this travel memoir concerns a trip into what could be called the “heart” of Congo, Human Rights Watch researcher Rawlence is determined to avoid cliché. Less predictably, this account of a 2007 trip through the troubled, postwar nation begins with Swedish crime novelist Henning Mankell’s point that too many Europeans “only know how Africans are dying, not how they live.” It’s in service of that idea that the author sketches the Congolese he meets, including impoverished, elderly Benjamin, whose son just happens to be one of Congo’s most vicious warlords; riverboat captain Mashine, destined to work with engines, but unable to swim; and beer-loving Catholic priest Jean-Baptiste. Thankfully, Rawlence prefers their company to any bravado over his deliberately low-tech trip’s discomfort and occasional danger. A sense of showmanship shines through, however, in his choice of an almost literal “lost city” as endpoint: Manono, a “modernist experiment in the jungle” nearly forgotten by Westerners since being built by Belgian architects after WWII. Per the title, Congo’s isolated radio stations come to stand in for hope, against the memory of a war sparked by Rwandan genocide and fed by vast mineral wealth, but not for any comprehensive solution to its problems. Agent: Sophie Lambert, Tibor Jones. (Feb.)
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