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Unbowed: A Memoir Paperback – September 4, 2007
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“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
About the Author
Wangari Muta Maathai was born in Nyeri, Kenya, in 1940. She is the founder of the Green Belt Movement, which, through networks of rural women, has planted over 30 million trees across Kenya since 1977. In 2002, she was elected to Kenya's Parliament in the first free elections in a generation, and in 2003, she was appointed Deputy Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate of 2004, she has three grown children and lives and works in Nairobi.
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Two things I struggled with as I read about her work with the Green Belt Movement are her tendencies to belittle Kenyans and portray herself as an absolute victim.
Because of her work, Maathai was constantly harassed by local government authorities. During these moments, she would appeal to her international networks of friends and colleagues to encourage the Kenyan Government to put the environment before destructive developmental projects, arguing that Kenyans are too busy trying to earn a living, or not as aware of environmental conservation as people in the West are. This is a contradiction with what she claims several times about generations past who had systems of protecting the environment. She even demonstrates it through stories about growing up amongst lush rivers and forested areas in the forties and fifties.
Finally, in the face of constant adversity, it may be inevitable to take the tone of a victim, constantly attacking the mechanisms and institutions that prevent one from doing their work. Maathai falls into this trap, which diminishes her heroism and struggle. As a woman who achieved such prominence, she could have held her head up a little higher, especially in her lucid writing, to give a more powerful account of the years she spent building the Green Belt Movement.