[Book Review] A Child Called ‘It’ by Dave Pelzer

A twitter debate on Stockholm Syndrome first introduced me to this book. Stockholm syndrome is delicious fodder for twitteratis, and especially those who wish to deride people in toxic [romantic] relationships, or the [Kenyan] electorate herd that keeps voting the same unworthy politicians into public office. As far as popular usage goes, those two scenarios pretty much covers everything, you have to respect the scope of our collective imagination.

According to Wikipedia, Stockholm syndrome is a condition where strong emotional ties develop between two persons where one person intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other.

One of the responses I received on my position that Stockholm Syndrome is hokum cited A Child Called ‘It’ [as below], and you know me-I follow through. A few weeks later I bought the book.

A Child Called ‘It’ is as depressing as it sounds. It is a chronicling of a true story of the child abuse David received from his mother growing up. And to call it child abuse is massive understatement. For over 7 years, Dave’s mother singled him out from his 4 siblings, and beat him up, secluded him from family gatherings and meals, leaving him to eat out of the trashcan if he was so lucky. He would then have to clean after his siblings in an empty stomach, only to retire on a cold basement floor, again only if he was lucky. When he wasn’t so lucky, his mother would force him to immerse himself in a tub full of cold water for hours, until he was weak and crinkly.

Over time the ‘punishments’ escalated to chemical burns, stabbing, being thrown out in the cold during the winter season etc. Naturally, this taunting spilled over to his life at school, where kids made fun of him for his smelly clothes, beat him up and refused to play with him.

This routine went on from an age of 5 years old, to his rescue by Social Services at the age of 12.

Everything about this book is beyond belief, and so upon finishing it my first reaction was to nose around on the internet looking for the story.

Full disclosure: There are a lot of claims that Dave may have been very loose with the facts and blown the reality to the fantastic. There are also claims that he may have bought a truckload of copies of his own book to move it up the bestsellers list. As I write this, I am very aware he could be a massive piece of trash for these reasons, but I wish to stay open minded and give the homeboy benefit of doubt. Abusers are so powerful because people often and without sufficient evidence disbelieve victims. That being said, fact or fiction, this was hands down the most disturbing thing I have ever subjected my senses to. I kept pausing my reading because I felt nauseated, and I am black.

But I want to be very real in this review; This book for all the sadness and horror is extremely poorly written and poorly edited, and right off the bat one can tell Dave is not a writer. Some people may argue that was because it was a book narrated from a child’s perspective, but I have read books narrated by children-Allah is not Obliged, Born on a Tuesday etc, and it’s possible to have a child narrator narrate a book well, even with the limited writing styles and devices available to child characters. However, being a story based on a lived experience I was tolerant, and I really put effort into finishing it, something I otherwise wouldn’t have done.

Rating: 3/5 stars

PS: I also finished Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind by Yuval Noah Harari some two weeks ago [even before Ebola]. It’s a complex book to review, and I’ll post the review as soon as I have been able to edit it.

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[Book Review] Ebola: The Natural and Human History by David Quammen

At 110 pages long, this book has been one of the shortest but most educational books I have read this year. It is dark, scary, and if it was any longer it’d probably have depressed me, but it’s one important read.

Let’s dig in, shall we?

As is a lot of [infectious] diseases, Ebola is forcefully African. Its history goes as far back as 1976, deep in the forests of Congo. Almost simultaneously, another independent outbreak was recorded in South Western Sudan, now part of the republic of South Sudan. Sporadic infections have occurred and recurred in other parts of Africa in subsequent decades-in Uganda, Cote d’ivoire, Gabon and most recently in the epidemic that ravaged Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria in the years 2013 to 2016.

But in light of massive breakthroughs in medicine and research since 1976, why does the Ebola virus seem more potent than ever? That is primarily the question this book seeks to address, while making it abundantly clear that since 1976 nary anything has changed in our understanding of the virus, or our proximity to a vaccine.

Firstly, Ebola is extremely difficult to study. While widely speculated in the Scientific community to be some bat species, the reservoir animal that hosts the Ebola virus in between human outbreaks is still unknown. Science is yet to isolate a live Ebola virus from a bat [or any other animal], which is the gold standard in establishing that an organism is a reservoir for a pathogen. And this is not for a lack of trying. The problem is compounded by the fact that there are more than 1000 species of bats, accounting for about 25% of all animal species, making it a herculean endeavour for any research body.

Secondly, the Ebola virus disappears for years at a time between outbreaks, often furiously reappearing in stints at unpredictable locations.This means that its geographical distribution and physical manifestation can only really be well studied during an actual outbreak, which is difficult and risks further spreading it. As well, the fatality rates within a short time necessitates sparing use of guinea pigs, limiting the pace and scope of any scientific study.

Thirdly, there are quite a few known strains of the Ebola virus, all native to different parts of the world, majorly in Africa (Uganda, Cote d’ivoire, Sudan, DRC and Phillipines). When these strains have spread, they have had completely different outcomes and fatality rates. Presently, it is unknown whether these differences arise from the genetic makeup of the strains themselves or from physical and economic conditions of habitat locations such as diet, weather, medical access etc. It is also not very clear how Ebola [strains] affects other animals it infects (it seems to affect Chimps a lot more voraciously, but then again chimps in the wild don’t have the best medical care).

In summary, Ebola seems to consistently emerge from forested areas, and its spread is highly proliferated by poverty and traditional practises like washing the dead and reliance on traditional healers in areas with poor medical coverage. Be as it may, however, we are all sitting ducks; limited understanding of Ebola’s MO means it can re-emerge anywhere at any time in any part of the world. As of now, no one has the right answers, but at least we seem to know what the questions are.

(I’d recommend this book to everyone. It’s candidly and simply written, well sourced, and just the right length to have understand the magnitude of the problem).

Rating: 4/5 stars