Hugely charismatic, humble, and possessed of preternatural luminosity of spirit, Wangari Maathai, the winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize and a single mother of three, recounts her extraordinary life as a political activist, feminist, and environmentalist in Kenya. (from the inside flap)
Wangari Maathai has been a familiar name to me since I read it in a magazine article perhaps 10 years ago -- sometime during high school. I drank in every word about her organization, The Green Belt Movement, how she was doing the very thing I dreamed of -- planting trees to heal not only the earth, but the people who live here, too. And so, when I finally snatched up her memoir at the library, I expected a grand tale of planting trees across Kenya.
Folks, this is not a book about trees. This is a book about an incredible woman who, when she saw a problem, immediately began looking for a solution. And pursued it. Over and over and over again. It is a story of Kenya, of women, of politics... and if that sounds boring to you, I promise, it's not. I shy away from the words "politics" and "memoir," especially when paired together. But this book is not dry. It is rich. Rich with words painting images telling the story of one of the most incredible women to ever walk this earth. And it is written in such a way as to capture the mind and emotions so that even those who balk at memoirs may be swept up in the journey.
You know that question used in ice breakers and writing prompts: if you could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be? I never had an answer. Because sharing a meal with a stranger -- and a famous one, at that -- sounds incredibly daunting to this introvert. But the more I read of Unbowed, the more I wanted to meet Wangari Maathai, to hear her tell more of her story, to simply hear her voice and see her eyes light up with a smile, to shake the hand that planted trees in both hope and stubborn rebellion.
And yes, there are also trees in this book. Lots of them, in fact.
"Trees are living symbols of peace and hope. A tree has roots in the soil yet reaches to the sky. It tells us that in order to aspire we need to be grounded, and that no matter how high we go it is from our roots that we draw sustenance. It is a reminder to all of us who have had success that we cannot forget where we came from."
If the name Wangari Maathai means nothing to you, look it up. Even if you do not read Unbowed (which you should!), at the very least, do an internet search. Read an article, read two, be inspired.