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Blue Clay People: Seasons on Africa's Fragile Edgeby William Powers
Synopses & Reviews
A haunting account of one mans determination and the struggles of a people living in a deeply troubled country.”—Booklist
When William Powers went to Liberia as a fresh-faced aid worker in 1999, he was given the mandate to fight poverty and save the rainforest.” It wasnt long before Powers saw how many obstacles lay in the way, discovering first-hand how Liberia has become a black hole in the international system”—poor, environmentally looted, scarred by violence, and barely governed. Blue Clay People is an absorbing blend of humor, compassion, and rigorous moral questioning, arguing convincingly that the fate of endangered places such as Liberia must matter to all of us.
William Powers directed food distribution, agriculture, and education programs for the largest non-governmental relief group in Liberia. His commentaries have appeared in The New York Times and on National Public Radio.
In 1999, William Powers went to Liberia as a fresh-faced aid worker with a mandate to "fight poverty and save the rainforest." In this articulate and elegantly crafted memoir, Powers—now a veteran foreign-relief expert—recounts his life-changing sojourn, a coming-of-age story marked by immeasurable poverty, crooked politics, unending war, widespread greed, and ecological anarchy.
While flying over the country's Sapo National Park, Powers gets his first taste of Liberia's stunning, gemlike rainforests—"a block of peacock, kelly, and olive green stretching out to the horizon"—and finds himself filled with purpose and hope. But shortly thereafter he learns that years of fighting and famine have left Liberia poor, environmentally looted, scarred by violence, and barely governed, with the infamous Charles Taylor supporting massive logging efforts that threaten to turn Liberia into a virtual desert. During his mission, Powers comes face-to-face with unspeakable horrors, including the vast destruction of natural resources and the insidious corruption that informs every transaction.
Yet, against the odds, he finds a place in the jungle that feels like home, and a woman whom he might risk everything for—until violence descends once more, threatening both his friends and his future. With the pacing and prose of a novel, Blue Clay People offers an absorbing blend of humor, compassion, and rigorous moral questioning. Throughout his tale, Powers deftly shows how and why the fate of endangered places like Liberia must matter to all of us.
"It is Powers' ability to see at least some things through African eyes that sets his memoir apart from so many other books about Africans by Westerners."—San Francisco Chronicle
"An examination of the failures and successes of international aid as well as a moving coming-of-age story."—Columbus Dispatch
"A masterful storyteller . . . Powers has a keen ear for dialogue and dialect, and his prose is lovely and lyrical . . . [His] honesty about his own flaws places him in the congregation rather than the pulpit."—Providence Journal
"So few educated Westerners agree to work in Liberia that any book illuminating the situation there would be welcome. It is a bonus that William Powers, one of those few, is also sensitive, reflective, and a fine stylist."—St. Louis Post-Dispatch
"In this painful and joyful narrative, William Powers provides a vital stratum of truth about life and foreign aid in the worst parts of the underdeveloped world that others are too embarassed to put in their reports. After you read this book, Liberia will no longer seem an abstraction, but a real place."—Robert D. Kaplan, author of Balkan Ghosts and The Ends of the Earth
"Powers has written a coming-of-age memoir that is also a searing examination of the moral and political dilemmas facing the West in what he calls the 'fourth world' of failed states at the mercy of warlords and ruthless corporations. Tragic, humerous, and penetrating, this book shows how outsiders' lust for Liberia's diamond and timber resources has led to the ruination of the country, its people, and its rainforests. I recommend this book to anyone interested in the problem of doing good in a world full of evil."—Deborah Scroggins, author of Emma's War
"Powers has thrown off Liberia's shroud of mystery and terror to reveal the human spirit of a people struggling for normalcy. With his sharp eye for detail and his graceful prose, he brings a heartbeat and a face to a culture known so long only for its conflict. Blue Clay People is a portrait of life in a war zone: honest, invigorating, at times infuriating, told by a development worker who steps into a storm and finds at its heart beauty and inspiration."—Sarah Erdman, author of Nine Hills to Nambonkaha
"A revealing story of a well-meaning NGO worker struggling against poverty and ecological devastation in Liberia, while ensconced in the enclaves of affluence and enjoying friendships and the beauty of a war-torn land. Powers brings home the ambiguities of aid work that tries to bridge first and third worlds, wealth and misery, across barrels of guns and fistfuls of dollars."—Rosemary Radford Ruether, author of Christianity and the Making of the Modern Family
"Powers left behind a caring girlfriend and the comforts of the U.S. to travel to Liberia in 1999 to take the position of Catholic Relief Services director at an international aid agency. The state of Liberia was founded in 1822 as a refuge for freed slaves from America, but conflicts with local peoples and recent bloody coups greatly destabilized the region and have made it one of the more dangerous countries in Africa. Powers hoped to help the Liberian people not by giving them handouts (such as the food his agency passed out) but by helping them sustain themselves. Powers certainly did more than many of his cynical colleagues have done—he visited many of the neglected villages and started an ambitious guinea pig-breeding project. Even as Powers began to become disillusioned with his fellow aid workers and some of the people he was trying to help, he persisted in his efforts and his optimism. His memoir is a haunting account of one man's determination and the struggles of people living in a deeply troubled country."—Kristine Huntley, Booklist
"Powers sketches scenes of transcendent beauty and grotesque violence, and writes with disarming honesty about his struggle to maintain his ideals when the right course of action is far from clear."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Powers went to Liberia as an aid worker in 1999 and was given the mandate to "fight poverty and save the rainforest." It's not long before Powers discovers how Liberia has become a Fourth World country--poor, environmentally looted, scarred by violence, and barely governed.
"A haunting account of one man's determination and the struggles of a people living in a deeply troubled country."--Booklist
When William Powers went to Liberia as a fresh-faced aid worker in 1999, he was given the mandate to "fight poverty and save the rainforest." It wasn't long before Powers saw how many obstacles lay in the way, discovering first-hand how Liberia has become a "black hole in the international system"--poor, environmentally looted, scarred by violence, and barely governed. Blue Clay People is an absorbing blend of humor, compassion, and rigorous moral questioning, arguing convincingly that the fate of endangered places such as Liberia must matter to all of us.
About the Author
William Powers directed food distribution, agriculture, and education programs for the largest non-governmental relief group in Liberia. His commentaries on international affairs have appeared in the New York Times and on National Public Radio.
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