Sunday, January 14, 2007

Unbowed: A Memoir by Wangari Maathai

Wangari Maathai is the 2004 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Born in central highlands in Kenya in 1940, her youth was poor but almost idyllic. Though near the equator, the region of her birth was cool, green, and fertile, and rarely was anyone in the still traditional Kikuyu villages ever hungry. Maathai loved the forests, the clear-running rivers, and the wildlife that was abundant.

In Unbowed, Maathai tells how she unexpectedly was sent to boarding school and did so well that she was eventually chosen for a Joseph P. Kennedy scholarship and landed at Mount St. Scholastica in Atchison, Kansas and then the University of Pittsburgh. After getting her graduate degree in biology, she returned to an independent Kenya, a nation full of promise and uncertain how to proceed in a modern world.

Most of Unbowed is the story of how Maathai became an activist for women's rights in an increasingly male-dominated society and an environmentalist in a country handing over public lands to commercial interests. As a founder of the National Council of Women in Kenya and the Green Belt Movement, she led many efforts to educate women and restore forests. She subsequently became an opponent to the corrupt one-party government of President Daniel arap Moi as a reaction to constant government harassment. She was frequently arrested and sometimes beaten, but she kept planting trees.

Readers interested in social justice, envirnmental concerns, and third world economics will enjoy this book, as will memoir readers.

Maathai, Wangari. Unbowed: A Memoir. New York: Knopf, 2006. ISBN 0307263487

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