You Will See Fire Book Review

Book Review by Ann Jonas, Tradebook Buyer - CSB/SJU Bookstores
this review was published in the St. Cloud Visitor

You Will See Fire: A Search for Justice in Kenya by Christopher Goffard; WW Norton Publishing; December 2011; 317 pp.

You Will See Fire, Christopher Goffard's new book of nonfiction, is the story of Father John Kaiser, the American missionary from Minnesota, who was found dead outside Naivasha, Kenya in August 2000.  Goffard, a staff writer for the Los Angeles Time, saw a small piece in the newspaper in August 2007 with the headline "Priest's Death Ruled Homicide."  The article stated that the FBI had previously concluded that Kaiser had died from a self-inflicted gunshot, which caused Goffard to wonder how that conclusion of suicide came about.

Goffard then became fascinated with Kaiser's story.  He did extensive research, traveling to Kenya to interview Kaiser's friends and acquaintances, government officials, and church associates.  Goffard visited with Kaiser's family members in both California and Minnesota, FBI agents, and many other people who knew the priest.  He also read the many letters and other writings of Kaiser, including If I Die, published after Kaiser's death.

The result of Goffard's tireless research was a three-part series on Kaiser's death, published in The Los Angeles Times in February 2009.  You Will See Fire is a considerably more comprehensive examination of Kaiser's life in Kenya, along with his mysterious death. The title of the book is taken from an unsigned letter Kaiser reportedly received in the mail in the summer of 2000, which stated in Swahili: "Utaona moto;" in English: "You will see fire."

In addition to Father Kaiser, one of the most important characters in You Will See Fire is Charles Mbuthi Gathenji, a Kenyan attorney who was a quiet dissident and champion for the oppressed, whose own father had been murdered for political reasons.  During the last five years of Kaiser's life, he and Gathenji had formed a bond, working together to help victims of political violence and oppression.  Goffard does an artful job of illustrating the contrasts between Kaiser, who was headstrong and vocal in his beliefs, and Gathenji, who preferred to work in a quiet, methodical, and behind-the-scenes manner.  Gathenji was instrumental in gaining an inquest into the priest's death and represented Kaiser's family, the Catholic bishops of Kenya, and the Mill Hill Missionaries, to which Kaiser had belonged.

The inquest and the original FBI investigation are engrossing components of You Will See Fire.  Goffard gives readers the necessary political, personal, and evidential backgrounds that factored into the final decisions of both the FBI investigators and the inquest's Kenyan magistrate.  Goffard does a remarkable job of illustrating Kaiser's strong Catholic beliefs, his sometimes reckless behavior, and his agitation and despair in the final days before his death.  You Will See Fire also provides sufficient Kenyan history to help readers understand the political dynamics of this African country before, during, and after Kaiser's death. 

A number of black and white photographs and forty-some pages of footnotes are contained in You Will See Fire.  It is a meticulously researched book; it is not, however, cumbersome or dull.  Full of mystery and drama, it is a compelling and informative story-a most worthy read. 

Christopher Goffard was part of the Los Angeles Times' team that won the 2011 Pulitzer Price for Public Service. He is also the author of a novel, Snitch Jacket

you will see fire