Finding the Source

One Man’s Quest for Healing in West Africa

Non-Fiction - Memoir
385 Pages
Reviewed on 04/13/2022
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Author Biography

Dave Kobrenski is an artist and musician who loves a good adventure and travels to West Africa frequently. When he’s not traveling, he makes art and music, builds flutes, writes and illustrates books, and hangs out with shamans and healers whenever possible.

Dave’s books include Finding the Source (2022), Drawing on Culture (2019), and Djoliba Crossing (2013). All books are available at davekobrenski.com and online wherever books are sold.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Viga Boland for Readers' Favorite

It’s not often I pick up a memoir and find that what I’ve read is not only an engrossing story but a fascinating and most unexpected education. Dave Kobrenski, the author of Finding the Source, managed to keep me thoroughly entertained by his unpretentious approach to sharing details of his often chaotic life. From the time I first met him in his memoir, he exhibited a thirst for knowledge beyond what he could get from regular education, along with restlessness and an insatiable need for artistic expression. Kobrenski ultimately satisfied those needs during his travels to West Africa where he was mesmerized by African ritual drumming, but along the way, he succumbed to a crippling auto-immune disease. Back home, his only relief was through typical Western pharmaceuticals that kept him semi-functional in an opioid haze. But in the back of his mind was what he had been told by shamans and natural healers in West Africa: that he had somehow offended ancient spirits and he needed to make reparation or forever suffer from the curse they had put on him.

Hence, Kobrenski’s memoir is about finding the source of both his physical and spiritual problems. Does he find that source? That, dear reader, is for you to find out. But what about this education I mentioned I received while reading Finding the Source? Well, for one, Kobrenski told me about Elmina, a castle-like fortress where slaves were kept in complete darkness, standing shoulder to shoulder in their filth while waiting to be shipped out. Another time, he filled me in on just how our current opioid crisis began: I had no idea how its simple beginnings evolved to what we have today. Then there was one of the most beautiful and touching parts of my education under Kobrenski: his close look at the African culture and mentality when it comes to community and strangers within it: “In the village mentality…even a ragged stranger who ends up on your doorstep must be provided for.” Contrast that thinking, says Kobrenski, to how in the west, we allow so many to go without.

In Finding the Source, Dave Kobrenski, without being preachy or boring, and often in a humorous, self-deprecating way, teaches readers about so many different subjects, including his great love of African drumming. Further, he captures the essence of the African people through his art, which you can enjoy on his website at www.davekobrenski.com. I thoroughly enjoyed visiting his site after reading this wonderful memoir. I hope you will do the same. Highly recommended.

Saifunnissa Hassam

Dave Kobrenski's Finding the Source: One Man’s Quest for Healing in West Africa is a well-written and captivating memoir. In 2001, Dave Kobrenski, an American artist and musician, is in Ghana, when he becomes very ill. On his return to the US, he discovers he has ankylosing spondylitis, an extremely painful and debilitating illness, with a gradual spinal fusion. His only recourse is narcotics to control the excruciating pain. This memoir is an account of the author's search for healing from this illness. His interest in West Africa is first sparked in college when he creates illustrations for an anthropology book about Ghana. Later, in Boston, he enrolls in a West African drumming course and becomes a very popular djembe drum instructor. Beginning in 2003, Kobrenski goes to Guinée (Guinea), to workshops by two master musicians -- Famoudou Konaté, the grandmaster of the djembé, and Lanciné Condé, master of the traditional flute, tambin. As his illness worsens, Kobrenski returns to Guinée, seeking healing through ancient West African traditions.

I was fascinated by Dave Kobrenski's Finding the Source. In his memoir, Kobrenski writes of how the illness, ankylosing spondylitis, impacts his life, his dependence on narcotics, and his search for healing. I liked the honesty and candor with which Kobrenski writes. At times the words are powerful, raw, and wild. I liked the flow of his memoir back and forth across the two decades or so after his diagnosis in 2001 because I could picture his long and tortuous struggle against the illness, beginning with despair, remorse, anguish, and gradually finding hope. I liked his open-mindedness when he explores other worldviews, particularly spiritual healing. As he writes of his trips to Guinée, I enjoyed reading about the villagers he meets, their humor, and their curiosity. I felt Kobrenski's quest turns very compelling and poignant when his two music mentors, Famoudou and Lanciné, also become his close friends and guides. From them, he learns more about the ancient West African methods of healing. I enjoyed reading this memoir very much, because ultimately Kobrenski rediscovers hope, courage, compassion, and love, to face an incredibly difficult life journey.

Iza Grek

Finding the Source by Dave Kobrenski is a heartfelt memoir about his love affair with Africa as well as his relationships with women and men alike through his travels across the continent. His expedition begins in 2001 in West Africa. Throughout his travails, he is severely debilitated by the oddly-named ankylosing spondylitis, an auto-immune disease affecting his spine. Desperate for a treatment that will alleviate his pain, “… first through divination, the healer must determine whether the illness has a natural or supernatural origin…" Kobrenski is willing to try anything. To this end, he pursues many traditional ‘prescriptions’ that include settling the ancestors by ‘paying them off’ and ridding himself of all his material possessions. His descriptions of Africa are provoking but, at the same time, the hardships of Africa are rendered in a way that is light and endearing.

Finding the Source is a brilliantly written work with the title’s multiple meanings made obvious. Kobrenski’s quest is both physical and spiritual. His phrasing is rich and colorful; for example, “Moments later, modern superseded ancient, and worlds collided noisily.” He translates some of the African proverbs to create the cultural flavor of the villages he inhabits. One such idiom is “An old man who is sitting can still see things a young man who is standing cannot.” Kobrenski teaches the reader as he learns, explaining all the vernacular words in context. Finding the Source is an engaging read from the first word to the last, with descriptions made even more vivid with the pictures supplied via the QR code. I would recommend this to aspiring travelers and anyone who wants to be entertained for several hours.

Jamie Michele

Finding the Source: One Man's Quest for Healing in West Africa by Dave Kobrenski is a non-fiction memoir detailing the author's life as he comes to terms with a medical diagnosis of a rare form of arthritis of the back called ankylosing spondylitis. Kobrenski writes in a shifting timeline and weaves between youth and adulthood, the United States and Ghana, and a life of white, middle-class privilege that felt lacking in meaning, to an adventure of the spirit, body, and soul. As the 'before' and 'after' begin to converge, we are able to witness the lengths Kobrenski is willing to go in the hope of releasing his debilitating physical pain, and also his hope of finding himself. In order to do any of this, he must first find the Source. “This time, I hadn’t come to immerse myself in music. This was no vacation. I had tasks to undertake—"

Dave Kobrenski's skill as an author is on full display as he takes us on a world tour from the comfort of our armchairs in Finding the Source. The prose is descriptive and strong and avoids tropes that are common in most memoirs of men who are not African becoming one with the land. I actually went into this book nervous about that aspect but Kobrenski is clear that Ghana is the savior, and he was the one who required saving. There is also an interesting element that starts to materialize as the book progresses, and that is Ghana being a living, breathing entity, much like a character. Kobrenski's writing is raw and profoundly honest, and I really loved the progression from tourist to calling a village in Africa home.

Foluso Falaye

What happens when an artistic soul is plagued by intense physical pain, due to his health issues? In Dave Kobrenski's case, his search for a cure leads him to the heart of Africa, where he also feeds his hunger for art by learning to play the djembé and dunun drums by consulting with musicians from Guinée, Mali, and Senegal. Attacked by incessant pain and a growing addiction to opioid pain medicines, Dave questions his disbelief of the spiritual forces of West Africa that are said to be the reason for his illness. In Finding the Source: One Man's Quest for Healing in West Africa, the author relates his long, tumultuous battle with a debilitating illness and an adventure-filled quest involving consultations with African elders and shamans, African musicians, and a Huichol shaman from the Sierra Madre mountains of Mexico.

I want to thank Dave Kobrenski personally and give him a firm handshake for writing this story. Finding the Source has encouraged me to become more appreciative of some things I take for granted - like good health and being born and raised in Africa, with its rich cultures and its lingering connection to the past. I enjoyed picturing the vividly described visits and encounters, including when the author meets an old man wearing a "plain tunic with cowry shells at his waist." Kobrenski's spectacular artistry is apparent in his captivating use of language. You can't read this poignant, thrilling, and deeply spiritual story without being touched to the core of your soul. Readers dealing with health problems and others who love to experience different cultures will especially love this story. It is one of my favorite books!