Synopses & Reviews
When bullets hit Agnes Kamara-Umunna's home in Monrovia, Liberia, she and her father hastily piled whatever they could carry into their car and drove toward the border, along with thousands of others. An army of children was approaching, under the leadership of Charles Taylor. It seemed like the end of the world.
Slowly, they made their way to the safety of Sierra Leone. They were the lucky ones.
After years of exile, with the fighting seemingly over, Agnes returned to Liberia--a country now devastated by years of civil war. Families have been torn apart, villages destroyed, and it seems as though no one has been spared. Reeling, and unsure of what to do in this place so different from the home of her memories, Agnes accepted a job at the local UN-run radio station. Their mission is peace and their method is reconciliation through understanding and communication. Soon, she came up with a daring plan: Find the former child soldiers, and record their stories. And so Agnes, then a 43-year-old single mother of four, headed out to the ghettos of Monrovia and befriended them, drinking Club Beer and smoking Dunhill cigarettes with them, earning their trust. One by one, they spoke on her program, Straight from the Heart, and slowly, it seemed like reconciliation and forgiveness might be possible.
From Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Africa's first female president, to Butt Naked, a warlord whose horrific story is as unforgettable as his nickname--everyone has a story to tell. Victims and perpetrators. Boys and girls, mothers and fathers. Agnes comforts rape survivors, elicits testimonials from warlords, and is targeted with death threats--all live on the air.
Set in a place where monkeys, not raccoons, are the scourge of homeowners; the trees have roots like elephant legs; and peacebuilding is happening from the ground-up. Harrowing, bleak, hopeful, humorous, and deeply moving--And Still Peace Did Not Come is not only Agnes's memoir: It is also her testimony to a nation's descent into the horrors of civil war, and its subsequent rise out of the ashes.
"Between 2004 and 2007, Kamara-Umunna hosted Straight from the Heart, a phone-in radio program that broadcast the 'true-life stories' of survivors of Liberia's civil wars (1989 1996, 1999 2003). At the show's inception, the focus was on the victims. In this part memoir and part history, Kamara-Umunna intersperses these 'true-life stories' with accounts of her own childhood and experiences in war-torn Liberia. She tells the story of the Straight from the Heart Center, a refuge for child soldiers. There, former child soldiers rebuild their lives from the ashes of atrocity and forge deep bonds of friendship among themselves. 'Sometimes,' she reports, 'I get overwhelmed,' and so too will the reader. This memoir, like the recollection of 'ales so unspeakable it was hard to believe they had actually occurred,' is an act of hope and catharsis, an answer to the unspeakable, images of boys turned automaton killers, dressed in costume 'torn from women and children that they had killed,' that to this day haunt the survivors of Liberia's brutal past. (Apr.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Agnes Kamara-Umunna was born in Liberia where she hosted the radio program Straight From the Heart and is a statement taker for the Liberia Truth and Reconciliation Commission. She lives in New York with her three children.
Emily Holland is an in-house producer and reporter for the International Rescue Committee (IRC), has contributed to JANE Magazine, The Princeton Alumni Weekly, and writes a "Dispatches from a Humanitarian Journalist" column for Dave Eggers's online publication McSweeney's Internet Tendency.