A riveting read

A riveting read

A riveting read

The Devil is a Black Dog
 Sandor Jaszberenyi
Speaking Tiger
2015, pp 208, Rs 254

A story can be told in many ways. Author Sandor Jaszberenyi chooses to tell his stories in a straight, understated manner that makes you wonder if you are reading fiction or non-fiction.

As a writer and photojournalist, Jaszberenyi has figured out the fine art of storytelling, something he probably worked on during his years of covering wars, revolutions and conflicts as a foreign correspondent in the Middle East and parts of Africa for leading Hungarian newspapers. He has covered the Darfur crisis, revolutions in Egypt, Libya, the Gaza war and the uprising in Yemen. He has also reported on the war in Ukraine.

With a canvas as wide as that, it is natural for any photojournalist to go beyond the basic reportage that Jaszberenyi worked on as part of his assignment. Even as journalistic writing is essential for credible documentation of events in history, a lot remains unsaid in the minds of journalists.

The Devil is a Black Dog is a collection of 19 stories written by Jaszberenyi. The setting for his stories is the Middle East, parts of Africa and Eastern Europe. The book has been translated by M Henderson Ellis, author of the novel, Keeping Bedlam at Bay in the Prague Café, writer and editor.

As one turns the pages of Jaszberenyi’s book, one is tempted to liken his writing to Polish writer Ryszard Kapuscinski, whose book The Shadow of the Sun, is a quintessential example of reportage writing.

But the difference is that Jaszberenyi’s debut book, published in Hungarian language in 2013, is a collection of fictional stories set in realistic conflict zones in regions that he is so familiar with.

The opening story of the book, “The Fever”, is about a journalist ailing with fever but continues to travel to his next assignment. The journalist is the central character in many of the stories that follow. The narrative, therefore, seem like real events unfolding before the reader.

In “The Blake Precept”, the main protagonist is in Abeche, Chad and is all set to fly to the capital city N’Djamena when Haboob, a dust storm, strikes. As he waits for the storm to die down, he meets a commander, who tells him about Sam Blake, an Australian captain, and his meeting with a prophetic ghost rider.

Each of the 19 stories in the book talks about varied facets of life, friendship, death and hope in war-torn conflict zones that may seem culturally alien and yet familiar to readers. In “Somewhere on the Border”, the protagonist, a journalist again, ponders about how every conflict is same no matter what the region. The way you spend your time is also always the same. “This is what war’s about: waiting. You wait for something to happen. You wait in a hotel room, in a café, you wait on the front line, by the fire of a camp, and you do all this as though you have a chance of understanding what is going on. But you don’t,” he says.

Jaszberenyi occasionally moves out of the war setting in his stories. He does that in “The Desert is Cold in the Morning”, a beautiful, moving story that touches upon a relationship between the protagonist and his father’s dog, a dachshund, orphaned by his master’s death. Here, the conflict is in the mind.

Most of the stories focus on events surrounding wars and conflicts and, therefore, bordering on the edge of morbidity. But the author intelligently pulls the reader out of that feeling with his racy pace that he engages in his storytelling here. In that, Jaszberenyi illustrates his journalistic trait, which primarily focuses on moving on to the next idea or event and not dwelling at one point for long.

Jaszberenyi’s storytelling in The Devil is a Black Dog is interesting and engaging because of his strong reliance on accuracy and lucidity in his writing.

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