Patricia Levy. Liberia. Tarrytown, New York: Marshall Cavendish, 1998. 128 pp. $35.64 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-7614-0810-9.
Reviewed by Jo M. Sullivan (Federal Street School, Salem, Mass)
Published on H-AfrTeach (December, 1999)
This volume in a series has comprehensive information on Liberia for a middle school audience; it could be used effectively as a resource for elementary students and as an introduction to Liberia for high school students with little background knowledge.
It gives an excellent geographical overview of the country and comprehensively treats all aspects of Liberian life and culture. The photos and maps are excellent, up-to-date, and reflect the diversity of this small country, from rural, to small town, to city life. The cover is excellent in its ordinariness and uniqueness: a contemporary brother and sister, instead of painted warriors. There is a useful glossary and the further reading is appropriate.
The weakest component is the history, from Liberia's origins to recent history of the 1990s. Although the book includes events up to 1997, there are serious mistakes, omissions and inaccuracies.
This volume does not do Liberia history justice, although there are several sections that could have done this. J.J. Roberts, the first president of Liberia, was not an African Liberian. The civil war of the 1990s is given almost no coverage, and the devastation of the 1996 invasion of Monrovia is completely omitted. Under the section "Famous Liberians" only two are in the text, former president W.V.S. Tubman and soccer player George Weah. In an inset, Charles Taylor is described and cleaned up, with no information on his embezzlement and his years of using young boys as soldiers to begin a civil war and destroy the lives of hundreds of thousands.
Throughout the book, the term hut is used over and over again, when house would do. Liberians do NOT use the term hut, but house, for dwellings of all materials. Tribe is used extensively, with ethnic group only once or twice, when it could have been used more generally.
Generalizations are made that are inappropriate. When mentioning that Liberians are a warm people, the author goes on to say that "Adult Liberians retain a childlike sense of fun and enjoyment . . ." This is too much like racial stereotypes of Africans and African-Americans. Although there are many excellent examples in the photos of diversity, the texts maintains that there are only two lifestyles, the traditional village life "of tribes" and the "urban Western-style economy". Liberians from all over the country combine all of that and every shade in between, traveling, moving, sharing childrearing, rural/urban/school lifestyles at different times of the year and times of their lives.
The author also states that "daughters are sold" and that "most men have two wives" These statements are not true. Even with these historical inaccuracies, one is tempted to recommend this volume to American students. In our visual culture, and with the paucity of good and varied visual images of Africans, this volume stands out with bright, good, typical scenes of variety and diversity that are what make Liberia an interesting and dynamic country.
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Jo M. Sullivan. Review of Levy, Patricia, Liberia.
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