[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.

[Opinion] Why I am Reading the Bible Cover to Cover

About two weeks ago I turned 25 and on top of my birthday wishlist was, of all things, owning a Bible. As it turns out, a Bible is exactly the kind of thing the male of the species is too happy to present to a woman on their 25th; my birthday strung along with it 3 Bibles from three vastly different Kenyan men. I brought the first one home yesterday [the Bible, not the man]; a brown, incredibly well bound Good News Bible.The second, a Gideon’s version, was to be presented to me on Friday, but due to unavoidable circumstances couldn’t, and we await its arrival next week.The third is what I have been informed to be an “African” Bible, which apparently presents the good word in both historical and cultural context, separating real events from metaphorical ones. This promises to be nothing but illuminating and is also to be gifted to me in the coming week. Muchas Gracias, gentlemen.

As I have noted on various platforms, I am not a believer but neither do I have the energy nor mental capacity for [antagonistic] atheism. So why read the Bible at all?

For the last year or so, I have done quite some reading on how religion has evolved for more than two thousand years to what it is today, and its contribution to the formation of the [largely] cohesive society we now experience.It is not in contention that The Bible is one of the main tools through which religion self perpetuates, and therefore I feel that as long as I have not read a religious text in full and in context, I shall not completely understand it for myself regardless of how many second hand sources I interact with. From an intellectual perspective therefore, I will be seeking to understand for myself how the Bible has contributed to the evolution of religion, and how religious text transforms into religious practises.

Secondly, I am interested in how reliable the Bible is as a muse for today’s christian beliefs and how accurately it captures the historical events it purports to relay. This is why I am so excited about a Bible that presents the historical events in context. Religion is problematic in its intolerance to questions, and I feel that context bridges the gap between what is being availed by religion and what is still unanswered. I am the first to admit that my lack of belief is informed by very limited and selected reading of the Bible, and while it’s near impossible that reading the Bible in full will transform me into a staunch believer, I would like to be better informed about my own stance.

Thirdly and finally, I am reading the Bible for mere enjoyment just like I do most books. Due to its cultural significance, I would read it anyway even if it were boring, but it’s a plus that it is arguably one of the most interesting texts in the history of books. The diversity, the stories, the poetry, the conflicts. It is truly a novel worth its name.

PS: I could easily have read the Quran for the same reasons above, but access and relatability is more challenging, so I begun with the Bible. Also, this exercise will quite likely take the rest of the year to complete, but I will provide updates on my progress from time to time .

[Book Review] Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy

My first encounter with this book happened to be on twitter in August 2016 after someone mentioned it in passing. For a moment I mused on what an odd title it has,but without thinking twice I moved along. After all, what is a millennial without digital haste?

The second time was at my usual book stand along Moi Avenue, where my book guy, Peter, gave me quite the marketing performance on the book.

At this point I bit, I bought it.

The book is a memoir of a grown up Lucy Grealy, who at only 9 years old was diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma, a potentially terminal form of Cancer. As a result of this illness, a third of Lucy’s jaw was removed so as to manage the disease, and subsequently Lucy went through 2 and a half years of devastating (and told in painstaking detail) bouts of chemotherapy.

While the chemo is an enormous source of pain for Lucy though, the book is Lucy taking the reader on an aesthetic journey of her face. Throughout her life, Lucy went through upwards of 30 surgeries to “rectify” her face, but every time her body swallowed itself in, consuming all grafts and treatments to revert to its most disfigured form. Lucy goes through particularly demeaning mockery in school on account of this disfigurement, and even in adulthood, she narrates gruelling experiences of being utterly humiliated and called ugly, her internal struggles with prospects of finding love despite her physical appearance and her journey through finding solace in poetry and solitude. Often, Lucy had to imagine parallel realities where life could be much worse, so as to feel better, which for the reader is more than heartbreaking, it’s immobilising. With Lucy we travel from Ireland to New York to Berlin to London to Scotland, looking to belong, looking for a semblance of normalcy in its most vane and literal sense.

I have read books about Cancer, but this is not about Cancer. The Cancer is only the means to the lense through which Lucy comes face to face with the concepts of beauty, of belonging, of acceptance, of love and how all these wonderful, complex and profound things can be inexplicably linked to how we quantify our sense of worth, and how others assess our potential to be worthy of these things.

Autobiography of a Face is incredibly well written, and on the first pages I found myself giggling quite a lot despite the heaviness of the subject matter. It is told with a great sense of wit, and sentimentality when it calls for it. It’s raw and honest, and therefore beautiful. This aptly titled book is an exquisite mirror into the innocence of children, a source of important questions and at the end simply a hauntingly beautiful memoir.

 

Rating: 4/5