When, in the opening pages, the author of this tell-all book says that it took quite some courage and prodding to tell his story, I mused that he was just courting the reader’s attention. I thought he was employing an age-old trick in African fireside storytelling, where the narrator would wax hesitant to tell his or her story, however innocuous, until he was induced, sometimes by being given a whole city or kingdom. Again, African stories were so treasured that they had to arrive with birth pangs akin to those that precede the arrival of a newborn.
A few pages into the story, however, I realised that this was not a run-of-the-mill childhood-to-adulthood chronology of events. It is the moving story of a man who, for more than three decades, has lived with what he calls ‘demonic’ attacks. Imagine going to bed and instead of drifting away to slumberland, you suddenly become aware of someone in the room, even when you are alone.
Then you become aware that there is someone lying next to you. The next thing you know, the strange presence is touching and violating you. All this time, you can barely breathe, you cannot talk or move but can hear and perceive everything happening around you.
To say such scenes are frightening would be to understate the horror of it all, especially considering that we are talking about a real story and not another Stephen King horror novel.
As I read through the story, I wasn’t quite sure that I was reading the life story of Fred Gori, a Facebook friend whose well-argued opinion pieces conjure up an image of a confident and self-assured man. In a masterful case of introspection, the author details how a difficult childhood robbed him of self-confidence.
He says he would get so self-conscious that he would avoid workplace bonding sessions, or find himself tongue-tied and incoherent during office meetings, despite having been an A-student all his life.
It is an analysis that not only captivates the reader, but also enables many to see their own life struggles in the life of the author of this 100-page book. For me, it left no doubt that it is really hard to tell what someone has gone through by looking at their Facebook posts or their intellectual output.
Break the Chains is a semi-autobiography, an inspirational book, a study in African religious philosophy and a whole lot of other genres rolled into one. It is both a sad and uplifting story. Sad because as you read through the 100 pages of text, you feel the author’s pain, like an echo in the bone, as he watches his mother struggling to feed him and his brothers and keep them in school. All this while worrying about a condition that causes excessive bleeding and eventually sends her to an early grave. Uplifting because, eventually, he finds out the cause of the pain he and his siblings had to endure. It is worth the trip to the bookshop to find out the sin of the fathers, which took place in the 1920s and the solution to the generational curse that saw his family suffer so many unnecessary deaths and other social calamities.
The book casts the subject’s father, the elder Gori, as an absentee parent. The old man’s life may, however, strike some readers as an innocent junior government officer innocently caught between the onset of the money economy and the need to have a large polygamous family just like his forbearers, a fact that caused a lot of suffering among his wives and children, and even though he was always elegantly turned out in a suit and had a pensionable government job, he really couldn’t do much for them.
Told in the first-person narrative voice and in a linear but repetitive flow of events, the story takes us on a journey from the time the author was born one evening in the 1970s and given the name Otieno (of the night), through his struggle to stay in primary school and having to repeat Standard Eight just to secure a place at the prestigious Starehe Boys Centre, and thereafter to Kenyatta University, Faculty of Environmental Studies. And the odd jobs in between. He later goes to the School of Journalism, where his career in the media and PR industry starts.
The author of this self-published book has worked as a consultant and adviser with organisations such as the Kenya Red Cross Society, ACT, East African Development Bank, Amnesty International (Kenya), KEPSA and KTDA.