And Still Peace Did Not Come: A Memoir of Reconciliation

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Overview

When bullets hit Agnes Kamara-Umunna's home in Monrovia, Liberia, she and her father hastily piled whatever they could carry into their car and drove toward the border, along with thousands of others. An army of children was approaching, under the leadership of Charles Taylor. It seemed like the end of the world.

Slowly, they made their way to the safety of Sierra Leone. They were the lucky ones.

After years of exile, with the fighting ...

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And Still Peace Did Not Come: A Memoir of Reconciliation

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Overview

When bullets hit Agnes Kamara-Umunna's home in Monrovia, Liberia, she and her father hastily piled whatever they could carry into their car and drove toward the border, along with thousands of others. An army of children was approaching, under the leadership of Charles Taylor. It seemed like the end of the world.

Slowly, they made their way to the safety of Sierra Leone. They were the lucky ones.

After years of exile, with the fighting seemingly over, Agnes returned to Liberia—a country now devastated by years of civil war. Families have been torn apart, villages destroyed, and it seems as though no one has been spared. Reeling, and unsure of what to do in this place so different from the home of her memories, Agnes accepted a job at the local UN-run radio station. Their mission is peace and their method is reconciliation through understanding and communication. Soon, she came up with a daring plan: Find the former child soldiers, and record their stories. And so Agnes, then a 43-year-old single mother of four, headed out to the ghettos of Monrovia and befriended them, drinking Club Beer and smoking Dunhill cigarettes with them, earning their trust. One by one, they spoke on her program, Straight from the Heart, and slowly, it seemed like reconciliation and forgiveness might be possible.

From Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Africa's first female president, to Butt Naked, a warlord whose horrific story is as unforgettable as his nickname—everyone has a story to tell. Victims and perpetrators. Boys and girls, mothers and fathers. Agnes comforts rape survivors, elicits testimonials from warlords, and is targeted with death threats—all live on the air.

Set in a place where monkeys, not raccoons, are the scourge of homeowners; the trees have roots like elephant legs; and peacebuilding is happening from the ground-up. Harrowing, bleak, hopeful, humorous, and deeply moving—And Still Peace Did Not Come is not only Agnes's memoir: It is also her testimony to a nation's descent into the horrors of civil war, and its subsequent rise out of the ashes.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Between 2004 and 2007, Kamara-Umunna hosted Straight from the Heart, a phone-in radio program that broadcast the "true-life stories" of survivors of Liberia's civil wars (1989–1996, 1999–2003). At the show's inception, the focus was on the victims. In this part memoir and part history, Kamara-Umunna intersperses these "true-life stories" with accounts of her own childhood and experiences in war-torn Liberia. She tells the story of the Straight from the Heart Center, a refuge for child soldiers. There, former child soldiers rebuild their lives from the ashes of atrocity and forge deep bonds of friendship among themselves. "Sometimes," she reports, "I get overwhelmed," and so too will the reader. This memoir, like the recollection of "ales so unspeakable it was hard to believe they had actually occurred," is an act of hope and catharsis, an answer to the unspeakable, images of boys turned automaton killers, dressed in costume "torn from women and children that they had killed," that to this day haunt the survivors of Liberia's brutal past. (Apr.)
Kirkus Reviews

A Liberian journalist sifts through agonizing stories of the victims and perpetrators of 14 years of civil war in her country.

Kamara-Umunna was the host of a call-in radio program,Straight from the Heart, broadcast from the United Nations Mission in Liberia beginning in 2004,a year after civil war devastated Liberia. In fact, there were two wars, from 1989 to 1996, and 1999 to 2003, in which the rebel warlord Charles Taylor wrenched control of the country from the previous illegal military dictator, President Samuel Kanyon Doe, then unleashed his murderous child recruits to wreak genocide to the magnitude of 250,000 dead. The author's job involved soliciting stories from victims as well as from the young perpetrators of violence and the warlords, to some controversy, "paving the way for a countrywide conversation" about the mayhem that would lead to the creation of a national Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2005. Each chapter begins with a brief eyewitness account by one of the traumatized voices, involving children being captured, brutalized, drugged, forced to perform savage acts and random murder in order to terrorize villages and please their commanders. Notes one soldier: "This was a method our commanders used to make us brave...Human lives became valueless to us." The bulk of the narrative involves Kamara-Umunna's own story. Growing up in neighboring Sierra Leone, the daughter of a Liberian nurse and a Sierra Leonean doctor (although she was not apprised that he was her father until grade school), she got pregnant at a young age, curtailing her education; later she worked as a secretary at a Freetown radio station, mostlyescaping the violence by remaining in Sierra Leone. Her eventual work collecting stories was remarkable and brave, especially convincing her editors and listeners that the stories of the young perpetrators should be heard, and forgiven.

A well-composed work that brings the Liberian conflict up uncomfortably close and personal.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781401323578
  • Publisher: Hyperion
  • Publication date: 3/22/2011
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 1,388,305
  • Product dimensions: 8.34 (w) x 5.74 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Agnes Kamara-Umunna was born in Liberia where she hosted the radio program Straight From the Heart and is a statement taker for the Liberia Truth & Reconciliation Commission. She lives in New York with her three children.

Emily Holland is an in-house producer and reporter for the International Rescue Committee (IRC), has contributed to JANE Magazine, The Princeton Alumni Weekly, and writes a "Dispatches from a Humanitarian Journalist" column for Dave Eggers's online publication McSweeney's Internet Tendency.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 23, 2012

    Must read... Riveting and inspiring memoir!

    This book is a must read since it draws on the worst and best of humanity! The author provides a riveting personal account about Liberia’s long and brutal civil war. Agnes does a brilliant job of interweaving personal narratives of war victims and perpetrators in each chapter as she reveals her own experience of witnessing murder and destruction.

    It also centers on her active role in helping her nation heal as it emerged into post-war recovery. She created the perfect venue to gather authentic stories from all sides of the war in her radio show called “Straight from the Heart”.

    She started with victims—mostly women—who shared their stories of rape, torture and losing family members. Later she was given the assignment to interview the former child soldiers—both male and female, which was she reluctant at first. However, as she immersed herself into their communities, she was able to win their trust and began listening to essentially same story of forced conscription—kidnapped from their families, beaten, drugged and threatened until they were programmed as “killing machines” who committed some of the worst atrocities.

    As she became sensitive to their humanity and suffering, she realized that they too were war victims. She felt compelled to offer support and guidance when she observed how they were treated as societal outcasts and “ghosts.” She has generously dedicated her time and resources to help as many of these young people as possible, not just in Liberia but also those discovered in New York City while she completes her Master’s Degree. She finds the New York group much more challenging, because they are harder to engage. Being a woman of determination, she does whatever she can to allow these Liberians to tell their stories.

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  • Posted October 28, 2011

    Fascinating, compelling, eye-opening

    For those Americans who even knew there was a war in Liberia, it was inexplicable, baffling, and totally foreign. Agnes Fallah Kamara-Umunna lived it, up close and personal. And as her fellow country-men staggered forward after the war, burying the horrors they had just seen, experienced or perpetrated, Agnes took on the bold task of bringing these acts to light on her radio show in an attempt to bring reconciliation and understanding. She provided a forum for individuals, including former child soldiers and those they had terrified and brutalized, to relieve themselves of the burden of shame and secrecy, and for some to ask forgiveness. This book provides an incredibly important reminder about the plight of child soldiers, exploited by the very adults they trust, and left with no future in a country that despises them and casts them out. A compelling read, well-written. I highly recommend it.

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  • Posted October 19, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Heartwrenching and Moving

    This is a tragically sad book.. yet full of hope and promise. A Must Read for Sure! I admit the first page was so horrendous that I almost stopped reading. However, I forced myself to read on rather than ignore the reality of what Liberians faced. I decided that the discomfort I felt reading was nothing compared to the inhumanity of War that people lived through. Kamara-Umunna has dedicated her life to the reconciliation process and this book does an excellent job of showing the tragic aftermath for both the perpetrators and victims and the necessary path to healing. Her story shows how one person helping one person, helping one person, etc., makes a difference. Tune in to NPR for a radio interview with the author about the book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 11, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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