When Dr. Wangari Maathai became the head of the University of Nairobi's Department of Veterinary Anatomy, she had no reason to suspect that she would become a hunted political dissident or a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Her simple efforts to mobilize women to plant trees evolved into a movement to make Kenya's corrupt government more responsive to the people. For her efforts, "the Tree Mother of Africa" was imprisoned several times. Unbowed recounts the extraordinary career of this talented, inspiring woman.
Wangari Maathai, who won the Nobel Prize in 2004, recounts her struggles in an inspirational memoir. Born in Kenya in 1940 in a traditional mud-walled house with no electricity or running water, Maathai had to deal with poverty, racism and old traditions including polygamy. She was fortunate in her mother, who protected and supported her in her dreams to become educated and a leader of her people. She began her journey during the ‘50s at St. Cecilia's Intermediate Primary School, a place safe from the Mau Mau insurgency, which ended when Kenya won its independence from Britain in 1963. Maathai completed her doctorate in 1971 and became the director of the Kenya Red Cross and the Kenya Association of University Women. She founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977, which encouraged rural women to plant trees in order to save the land from the depredations of rampant logging. To date they have planted millions of trees in Kenya. Maathai also became involved in politics, an act that landed her in jail more than once. She married and divorced and lost her beloved mother. Her story is one of rugged determination in the face of opposition and courage in the face of danger. She will be an inspiration to high school students, especially girls. Age Range: Ages 15 to adult. REVIEWER: Janet Julian (Vol. 42, No. 1)
The charismatic leader of Kenya's environmental movement and 2004winner of the Nobel Peace Prize has written an affecting memoir. The inspirational, if somewhat artless, narrative starts with her hardscrabble youth in the Kikuyu highlands, goes on to the Catholic missionary education that brought her to a small college in Kansas in 1960, and then describes her triumphal return to Kenya as the country's first female university lecturer. The second half of the book covers her emergence as a passionate anti-deforestation activist as the head of the Green Belt Movement. Forced out of her position at the university for her increasingly militant environmental activism, Maathai essentially reinvented herself within the nascent Kenyan civil society. She recounts her bitter struggles with the government, the simple yet effective organizational structure she built, and her increasingly important ties to the Western networks of women's groups, environmental activists, and donor organizations that provided her with resources, publicity, and a discourse of high-minded international progressivism. She essentially invented a new kind of public role for herself within the Kenyan polity.
Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Kenyan environmental and political activist Maathai, currently an assistant minister in the Ministry for the Environment, Natural Resources, and Wildlife, Kenya, here offers an autobiography written with honesty, humility, and depth. She relates her early interest in the natural world, her formal studies at a Catholic school far from home, the terror as the Mau Mau rebellion began, and her U.S. college studies in biology. Although she encountered incidents of racial discrimination, her U.S. education proved to be a liberating experience. Having earned a master's in biology in 1965, she was asked to return to the newly independent Kenya to work as a lab assistant at the University of Nairobi and complete her Ph.D. She founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977, providing rural women with work planting trees to reforest Kenya, and moved into political activism as well. Her achievements, accomplished as they were in the face of incarceration by those in power, will astonish the reader. Maathai's fairness, activism, and determination to make her country and the continent she loves healthy again are palpable. For all academic libraries as well as public libraries with African collections. [For an interview with Maathai, see "Fall Editors' Picks," LJ9/1/06.—Ed.]
Wangari Maathai’s memoir is direct, honest, and beautifully written—a gripping account of modern Africa’s trials and triumphs, a universal story of courage, persistence, and success against great odds in a noble cause.” —President Bill Clinton
"Wangari Maathai is the rare leader who knows how to create independence, not dependence. On the page as in person, her example makes each of us a little stronger, wiser and braver than we ever thought we could be.” —Gloria Steinem
“Compelling. . . . A striking reminder that the peace award, more than any other Nobel honor, recognizes success achieved through tremendous adversity.” —The Seattle Times
“Inspirational. . . . Ms. Maathai will not be beaten down.” —The Economist
“[Maathai’s] story provides uplifting proof of the power of perseverance—and of the power of principled, passionate people to change their countries and inspire the world.” —The Washington Post