The Book Club Selection for April was authored by the 2011 Noble Peace Price winner and Liberia’s Peace and Women’s Rights Activist, Leymah Gbowee. The book had me hooked from the prologue.I was both gobsmacked and overwhelmed to read about the violence, poor conditions and vulnerability of a nation that was marred by war.
In a nutshell, the book is about a woman, who like any other, could have chose an easy life and just aimed at surviving her days during the war. But no. Leymah, a single mother and prey to several dysfunctional relationships, chose to rise above her current state of hopelessness and launch a peace movement led by women that would bring an end to the violence.
Liberia was in the midst of a civil war that span 13 years. Children were turned into soldiers, women regardless of their age were raped, people were murdered and crime was rampant. The book takes the reader on an emotional journey, and in the process demonstrates how women, should they unite above their ethic backgrounds, class and religion, can bring about change where men seemed to fail.
The story is fascinating on many fronts. It captures stories of women uniting for the greater cause, but also tells the story of Leymah’s struggle to create a better life for herself and her family. It talks in details about the sacrifices she had to make in order to achieve this and at the same time, answer a calling that she felt she was chosen for.
However, her dreams of seeing peace restored to her country did not come without a cost. The sacrifices she made, challenged her role as a wife, a daughter, a sister, a mother and most importantly as a woman. She sent her children to live in Ghana under the care of an older sister, and missed them terribly, but at least they were safe.
It took a lot of heart to read about the atrocities that the people of Liberia were afflicted with. It’s one thing to read or hear about these things, but to actually see them, witness them for yourself and suffer through them is another. I paced very slowly through the sections that described the destruction of the war (the bombs, the rapes, the deaths) because I had to really process these and get the images out of my head.
I cried when she spoke of her marriage with David. How he was abusive towards her and her justification for sticking to him out of desperation. She was correct to state that an abusive marriage doesn’t have to be physically abusive. It can also be emotional which is the worst kind. Because although the bruises fade and scars heal with time, in a physically abusive marriage, in an emotional one, the damage stays long after the perpetration. it eats away at you silently – your self esteem, your image, your self worth and your confidence gets eroded with time.
I felt like she died every night and was reborn again with renewed strength to overcome the hurdles that the war and peace process presented. One instance was when her peace process was gaining momentum and coverage, ladies from withing her party accused her of being immoral (with her relationship with Tunde) and selfish for grabbing all the attention from the media. She was honest enough to talk about her many “failures” and how she always rose from the ground in the face of adversity – never sit back and let life happen. Make life deal with YOU.
The book is a sad read, no doubt. Every page is streaked with one tragedy or another, be it personal or national. But because we know that her efforts did bear fruit, I was a bit disappointed when I came to the end of the book without reading about the joyous event of winning the Nobel Peace Prize. I feel a whole chapter, at least, should have been dedicated to that as it would have balanced the other chapters of grief that we experienced as readers for her.
As mentioned earlier, the book is a tough one and needs a lot of heart to read. Yet it is at the same time captivating and inspiring. Who could have imagined that Women, through “sisterhood, prayer and sex” could bring peace to a nation. Would I recommend this read? Personally I am not a fan of memoirs, and I found this one to be a little dry. It took me a while to read this (skimmed through the last chapters after the peace talks in Ghana were concluded). I guess because it was so heartrending and emotional I couldn’t wait for it to be over.
What stood out for me were how she narrates her struggles with her family, how she balances her role as provider with that of her sister who was the care giver (and mother to her family), and how as a woman, would turn to alcoholism in times of duress.
Some of my favorite quotes from the book were:
When you move so quickly from innocence to a world of fear, pain and loss, it is as if the flesh of your heart and mind gets cut away, piece by piece, like slices taken off a ham. Finally, there is nothing left but bone.
When you are Depressed, you get trapped inside yourself and lose the energy to take the actions that might make you feel better. You hate yourself for that. You see the suffering of others but feel incapable of helping them, and that makes you hate yourself, too. The hate makes you sadder, the sadness makes you more helpless, the helplessness fills you with more self-hate.
You can tell people of the need to struggle, but when the powerless start to see that they really can make a difference, nothing can quench the fire.