Bad News

Last Journalists in a Dictatorship

Publisher: Vintage Canada
Author of the acclaimed Stringer, praised by Jon Stewart as "a remarkable book about the lives of people in the Congo," Anjan Sundaram returns to Africa for a piercing look at Rwanda, a country still caught in political and social unrest years after the genocide that shocked the world.

     Bad News is the story of Anjan Sundaram's time teaching a class of journalists in Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda. The current Rwandan regime, which seized power after the genocide in 1994, is often held up as a beacon of progress and is the recipient of billions of dollars each year in aid from Western governments. Underpinning this shining vision of a modern orderly state, however, is a powerful climate of fear springing from the government's brutal treatment of any voice of dissent. "You cannot look and write," a policeman tells Sundaram as he takes notes at a political rally. As Sundaram's students are exiled, imprisoned, recruited as well-paid propagandists, and even shot, he tries frantically to preserve a last bastion of debate in a country where the testimony of the individual is crushed by the ways of thinking prescribed by Paul Kagame's dictatorial regime.
     A vivid portrait of a country at an extraordinary and dangerous place in its history, Bad News is a brilliant and urgent parable on the necessity of freedom of expression and what happens when that freedom is seized.

From the Hardcover edition.


Finalist for the 2017 PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award

“In this thoughtful and evocative book, Anjan Sundaram takes us into the lives of those living under a dictatorship. He chronicles the sacrifices of the brave journalists who try to speak the truth about their own country, the damage those truths inflict on those who bear witness, and the horrors of silence for those who cannot speak. His clipped and lucid prose offers an illuminating look into a place too often ignored by the rest of the world.” —Graeme Smith, award-winning author of The Dogs Are Eating Them Now: Our War in Afghanistan

“Few people have suffered the hideous fate of Rwandans in the modern era. It is shocking, painful beyond words, to see the darkness settling again in a dystopia that is crushing free expression and individual lives. This searing, evocative account, focusing on young journalists struggling to gain the rights they so richly deserve, provides insights about the human condition that reach far beyond the tragic story of Rwanda.” —Noam Chomsky

“[A]stonishing. . . . [H]eartbreaking. . . . Bad News is an honest, well-written portrayal of both the current political situation in Rwanda and the underrated work many journalists sacrifice their lives for. It may not be as glamorous or feel as optimistic as the recently released film Spotlight, but it highlights injustice and the importance of journalism against powerful organizations with all the same urgency.” —Karen K. Ho, National Post
“[A] riveting, if unrelievedly sombre chronicle of Rwanda’s descent into total one-man rule. . . . Well-sourced. . . . Prophetic. . . . A profound warning of the dangers of not having a free press.” —The Hamilton Spectator
“Written with terrifying crispness, this surreal thriller captures the shocking absurdities of life in contemporary Rwanda. . . . With mounting tension, Bad News tells of what happens to the journalists in his class—how the best are hounded out of the country, how the independent newspapers are closed down—until Sundaram himself feels the iron fist of fear closing in.” —The Sydney Morning Herald
“Sundaram’s talents show in his creation of an atmosphere of paranoia and dread. . . . A chilling account of reporters in danger that heightens awareness of the importance of a free press.” —Kirkus Reviews
“[O]ne of the finest works of reportage in living memory. . . . [Bad News’s] strength lies in its ability to convey the nightmare of today’s Rwanda and the international community’s complicity in it.” —Antony Loewenstein, The Australian
“[A] gritty, brutal and often heartbreaking account of a country in the process of crushing its own people into obedience. . . . [Bad News is] a classic of journalism, an unforgettable account of the machinery that is necessary to sustain a republic of fear.” —Nilanjana S. Roy, Business Standard
“[A] superb exposé of a dictatorship as he observes how the tentacles of totalitarianism squeeze the life from a society. Bad News is an important book that should shatter any lingering faith people might hold in Kagame’s hideous regime. . . . This is a desolate work, taut prose describing the stifling atmosphere of a nation trapped in fear. . . . [R]equired reading—not least by donors in the west.” —The Guardian
Bad News is a searing illustration of the dangers associated with newsgathering in an authoritarian state, and a paean to those courageous enough to practice it in such dire circumstances. Despite the repressive tactics, reporters risked their lives to publish and broadcast the news, dreaming up clever ruses to connect with the readers and listeners. . . . These and other Rwandan reporters continue to work in oppressive conditions. Bad News is a potent celebration of their tenacity.” —The San Francisco Chronicle
“Sundaram’s insights are harrowing, his narrative fast-paced and immediate.” —Financial Times
“Writing of his experience running a journalists’ training program in Kigali, Rwanda, Sundaram captures the quiet menace of his surroundings. . . . About halfway through the book, the sequence eerily reverses; the stories are now following the journalists—and silencing them. The effect is haunting. . . . His first book, Stringer: A Reporter’s Journey in the Congo (2014), was visceral, emotional reportage; Bad News feels measured, even mildly resigned, in comparison, the work of a journalist more inured to life under a corrupt regime. . . . Sundaram’s exposé is courageous and heartfelt. . . . Sundaram is thorough, even when the news is bad. . . . In writing this book Sundaram surely put himself at risk, and it is a testament to his bravery that he did so without drawing undue attention to its personal cost.” —Aditi Sriram, The Washington Post