The story of Leymah Gbowee and the women of Liberia is, without a doubt, one of the best of the past 30 years. It’s a story of war, suffering and the ability to eventually overcome seemingly insurmountable adversity through sheer force of will. That said, the 2011 memoir of the events doesn’t reach the level it could. Gbowee and Mithers begin by examining the personal story of Gbowee during the Liberian civil war and during her own abusive relationships and her growing hopelessness. By all rights, her recounting of the desperation and destitution of her nation should be absolutely heartbreaking, but they seemed to constantly miss the mark. They were still emotionally impactful, but the shift between tragedy and mundanity and tragedy was jarring enough to distract.
Later in the book, the authors expand to how Gbowee enacted change in Liberia and then how she managed to assert herself on the international stage. Sadness and pain refuse to leave Gbowee alone during this time, but the second two parts display the empowered and unflappable woman who organized movements in her country that led to the deposition of a dictator. While it struck a more optimistic tone during these areas, the book still managed to miss its mark on occasion. The subject of Gbowee’s organizational work is bogged down by confusion about the different names that she drops and rarely clarifies on. Different organizations are described briefly at the outset and then constantly referred to by their similar-sounding initials; friends and allies are likewise described in a non-descriptive way.
Criticism aside, the story behind the book makes it work. There are lines that provide into both the disheartening and the heartwarming sides to the years long civil war in Liberia. Any reader without a prior knowledge of the conflict would be well advised to experience the atrocities from the eyes of one who lived through them as fully as Gbowee.
Reviewed by: Malachy Dempsey