Synopses & Reviews
An elegantly written memoir of a young man's life-changing sojourn in a world of immeasurable poverty and instability: Charles Taylor's Liberia.
William Powers went to Liberia as a fresh-faced aid worker in 1999 and was given the mandate to "fight poverty and save the rainforest." It's not long before Powers is confronting the myriad obstacles to these goals. He discovers how Liberia has become a Fourth World country, or a "black hole in the international system"-poor, environmentally looted, scarred by violence, and barely governed. He comes face-to-face with unspeakable horrors and the insidious corruption behind every daily transaction. Yet, against the odds (and the attitude of most aid workers), he finds a place in the jungle that feels like home and a woman he might risk everything for, until violence descends once more, threatening his friends and his future.
With the pacing and prose of the best novels, Blue Clay People is an absorbing blend of humor, compassion, and rigorous moral questioning that will convince readers why the fate of endangered places such as Liberia must matter to all of us.
"When Powers, fresh out of a Ph.D. program in international relations, arrived in Liberia in 1999, sent by an international aid agency 'to fight poverty and save the rainforest,' he faced a daunting task. The second-poorest country in the world, Liberia had just begun to emerge from seven years of civil war and was 'environmentally looted, violence scarred, and barely governed.' Even major cities lacked electricity, running water and postal service; garbage lay uncollected in the streets, schoolteachers were barely literate and the economy worked largely on bribes. The government of Charles Taylor enriched itself through illicit trade in conflict diamonds, protected timber and weapons, while terrorist militias acted at whim. 'It's all just so brutal,' Powers confided to his girlfriend, almost ready to quit after his first year. Yet he stayed on, and this eloquent memoir shows why he found this troubled country so difficult to leave. He writes of stunning beaches and rivers, of majestic forests home to the largest concentration of mammals in the world threatened by rapacious logging companies, and of resilient people who teach him that it is possible to live happily with 'enough.' He 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: is it ethical to take an African lover, when the relationship will inevitably be based on financial support? Should he buy endangered zebra duiker meat from a poor family that desperately needs the money? Does his work do good, or inadvertent harm? In the end, he decides, it may not be possible to change the world, but we must continue to act as if we can. Agent, William Clark. (Jan.) Forecast: While more limited in scope than David Rieff's A Bed for the Night, Blue Clay People makes similar points about struggles of humanitarian work and should engage readers of Rieff's volume." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"A hard-bitten, unclouded, and intense portrait of a desperate place." Kirkus Reviews
"Powers has a keen ear for dialogue and dialect, and his prose is lovely and lyrical." Providence Journal
"Powers' ability to see at least some things through African eyes that sets his memoir apart." SF Chronicle Review
"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
"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 hails from Long Island and is among a small group of Westerners to have lived long-term in Liberia and to have traveled to the nation's most dangerous corners. For two years, he directed food distribution, agriculture, and education programs for the largest non-governmental relief group in Liberia. He has also worked at the World Bank, and holds International Relations degrees from Brown University and Georgetown's School of Foreign Service. He's currently on assignment in Bolivia.