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This Child Will Be Great: Memoir of a Remarkable Life by Africa's First Woman Presidentby Ellen Johns Sirleaf
"The 2006 election of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as Liberia's first woman president — the first in all of Africa! — is one of the few uncontested bright spots in the turbulent recent history of that country....Becoming president in postwar Liberia was pure euphoria, she says, the most she could hope for. At the same time, 'Despair and resignation stared many of our citizens in the face,' she writes. 'All of this was as true on inauguration day as it had been the day before and as it would be the day after.'" Erin Aubry Kaplan, Ms. Magazine (read the entire Ms. Magazine review)
Synopses & Reviews
In January 2006, after the Republic of Liberia had been racked by fourteen years of brutal civil conflict, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf—Africa's "Iron Lady"—was sworn in as president, an event that marked a tremendous turning point in the history of the West African nation.
In this stirring memoir, Sirleaf shares the inside story of her rise to power, including her early childhood; her experiences with abuse, imprisonment, and exile; and her fight for democracy and social justice. This compelling tale of survival reveals Sirleaf's determination to succeed in multiple worlds: from her studies in the United States to her work as an international bank executive to her election campaigning in some of Liberia's most desperate and war-torn villages and neighborhoods. It is also the story of an outspoken political and social reformer who, despite danger, fought the oppression of dictators and championed change. By sharing her story, Sirleaf encourages women everywhere to pursue leadership roles at the highest levels of power, and gives us all hope that, with perseverance, we can change the world.
"Forbes lists Sirleaf, the 23rd president of Liberia and the first elected female president on the African continent, among the 100 Most Powerful Women in 2008. In and out of government, in and out of exile, but consistent in her commitment to Liberia, Sirleaf in her memoir reveals herself to be among the most resilient, determined and courageous as well. She writes with modesty in a calm and measured tone. While her account includes a happy childhood and an unhappy marriage, the book is politically, not personally, focused as she (and Liberia) go through the disastrous presidencies of Samuel Doe and Charles Taylor. Sirleaf's training as an economist and her employment (e.g., in banking, as minister of finance in Liberia, and in U.N. development programs) informs the perspective from which she views internal Liberian history (e.g., the tensions between the 'settler class' and the indigenous people) and Liberia's international relations. Although her focus is thoroughly on Liberia, the content is more widely instructive, particularly her account of the role of the Economic Community of West African States." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
The first thing to be said about Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's "This Child Will be Great" is that it is exceptionally well written, a true story that seems as much a thriller as it does the remembrances of an ambitious and brave woman. The narrative begins in the late 1930s and early 1940s, in the ramshackle town of Monrovia, Liberia, with young Ellen and her family living in a "two-story concrete structure... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) with cocoanut trees growing in the yard." It ends with Johnson Sirleaf's inauguration on Jan. 16, 2006, as Africa's first elected woman president in that same city, now, "the bruised and battered capital of a bruised and battered land." The intervening years were unimaginably unkind to Liberia. By the time Johnson Sirleaf stood before her people and promised to uphold and defend the Constitution, the country had known nothing but corruption and brutality from its leaders for 26 years. On April 12, 1980, a 28-year-old master sergeant named Samuel Doe killed President Tolbert in his bed and "went on television to address the nation ... wearing his green army fatigues, an army cap, and sunglasses, with a grenade dangling from his pocket." Liberia was thrown into a period of surreal violence (the underappreciated 2005 film "Lord of War" captures this mayhem superbly), which spilled over into the rest of West Africa, threatening to destabilize the entire region. Johnson Sirleaf enjoyed a generally happy childhood, in spite of one "Slumdog Millionaire" experience: "The toilet ... , with its rough plank boards stationed around and above the hole in the ground, was less pleasant," she writes of the family's lavatory, "especially the time I fell inside." But those carefree days were cut short when her father suffered a stroke. This was one of several blows to befall the young woman, including marriage at age 17 to an abusive husband. Through it all, she refused to be a victim but took each insult and injury as a call to rely on her own strength. Much later, when Doe's henchmen imprisoned the outspoken woman — by now a prominent economist — Johnson Sirleaf drew upon the same resilience to save her life. Arrested because of her unspoken criticism of Doe's regime, she found herself being driven to a notorious jail. "Prodding me with their fingers, the soldiers ordered me from the Jeep," she writes. "I turned and looked at (one soldier), straight into his eyes. I was trying to connect with him — as a person, as a human being, as a woman old enough to be his mother or his aunt. I wanted him to really see me; for soldiers in a war, it is so easy not to see." Johnson Sirleaf is candid and clear-eyed in apportioning blame for the collapse of her country, and there is plenty of blame to go around. She writes that "Doe got greedy and the people around him got greedy too, and collectively they began to feed off the state's largess like a pack of hyenas." President Ronald Reagan, seeing Liberia as an important Cold War ally, propped up the murderous Doe for years, going so far as to invite him to the White House in 1982, where he was "warmly greeted by the president as 'Chairman Moe.'" Charles Taylor and Prince Johnson — the two warlords who fought for supremacy in the void of Doe's corrupt leadership — are described here as undisciplined, homicidal maniacs. Taylor, especially, is portrayed as a brutally efficient recruiter of child soldiers. His commanders gave boys as young as 9 drugs "to fuel their ferociousness. They gave them ... guns and the permission to take whatever they wanted, and then sent them out to village and countryside to loot, rape, fight and kill." Shockingly, Taylor — when he wrested power in an obviously fraudulent election in July 1997 — received support from former President Jimmy Carter who, according to Johnson Sirleaf, "went so far as to declare the process and resulting transformation of Liberia from a war-torn land to what he suggested was a functioning democracy 'almost a miracle.'" This timely book, essential for anyone who hopes to understand West Africa in general and Liberia in particular, is a lesson in courage and perseverance. This reader finished it hoping that the rest of Africa's troubled nations will find their own versions of "Mama Sirleaf." Alexandra Fuller's most recent book is "The Legend of Colton H. Bryant," out in paperback this month. Reviewed by Alexandra Fuller, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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Book News Annotation:
In January 2006, after 14 years of brutal civil conflict, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa's "Iron Lady," was sworn in as president of the Republic of Liberia. In this memoir, Sirleaf shares the story of her rise to power, from her early childhood to her studies in the US, her work as an international bank executive, her imprisonment and exile, and her fight for democracy and social justice. By sharing her story, Sirleaf encourages women everywhere to pursue leadership roles at the highest levels of power, and gives hope that, with perseverance, we can change the world. An appendix provides her inaugural speech. Unfortunately, there are no photos. Annotation ©2009 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
“The first thing to be said about Ellen Johnson Sirleafs This Child Will Be Great is that it is exceptionally well written, a true story that seems as much a thriller as the remembrances of an ambitious and brave woman. . . . This timely book, essential for anyone who hopes to understand West Africa in general and Liberia in particular, is a lesson in courage and perseverance.”
From Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf—Africas first elected female president—comes an inspirational memoir about her improbable rise to international prominence, her fight for political freedom, and her unwavering determination to rebuild Liberia in the wake of civil war.
About the Author
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has received several prestigious awards, including the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom. She holds numerous degrees, among them a master's in public administration from Harvard University. President Sirleaf lives in Monrovia, Liberia.
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