Thursday, September 17, 2009

BBAW Celebrate Books - 14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy

Today's BBAW post guidelines are to do a review of a book I learned about from another blogger. Natasha at MawBooks reviewed a book in August 2009 that I absolutely had to buy immediately. She has intrigued me several times, but this one wasn't something I wanted to add to the TBR it was something I wanted to own and read RIGHT THEN. I promptly purchased 14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy and wanted to post the review today. Thanks Natasha!

In June of 2002, a very unusual ceremony begins in a far-flung village in western Kenya. An American diplomat is surrounded by hundreds of Maasai people. A gift is about to be bestowed on the American men, women, and children, and he is there to accept it. The gift is as unsought and unexpected as it is extraordinary. A mere nine months have passed since the September 11 attacks, and hearts are raw. Tears flow freely from American and Maasai as these legendary warriors offer their gift to a grieving people half a world away. Word of the gift will travel news wires around the globe. Many will be profoundly touched, but for Americans, this selfless gesture will have deeper meaning still. For a heartsick nation, the gift of fourteen cows emerges from the choking dust and darkness as a soft light of hope_and friendship. Master storyteller Carmen Agra Deedy hits all the right notes in this elegant story of generosity that crosses boundaries, nations, and cultures. An afterword by Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah_the Maasai warrior at the center of the story_provides additional information about his tribe and their generous actions. Thomas Gonzalez_s stunning paintings, which are saturated with rich hues of oranges and browns, and blues and greens, capture the modest nobility of the Maasai people and the distinctive landscape of the African plain.

September 11, 2001 changed our world. Americans were traumatized and it was the first time that many of us felt unsafe living in the United States. Around the world countries rushed to support America. 14 Cows for America is one such example of selfless giving.

Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah, a Maasai from Kenya, lived in New York during the attacks. The following Spring he returned to his tribe and shared his story of that time. The Maasai are a people who believe in compassion and caring. It is their belief that "to heal the pain in someone's give them something that is close to your own heart". One thing very close to the Maasai is their cattle. Cattle are cared for as well as family member and represent life to the tribe. In an effort to heal the pain of the American people the Maasai offered 14 cows.

I found this story to be truly touching. The Maasai offered "life" to the American people after a great loss of life- literally and symbolically. By symbolically I am referring to the changes that took place in us after we lost our sense of safety and indestructibility. To some 14 cows may not seem like a sacrifice, but this is a large gift. Cattle are not owned by all and must be saved for over time. Cattle represent "life" and provide food and livelihood. The cattle are hope and growth and healing.

The artwork in the book is breathtaking and the story almost lyrical. It is a picture book with great depth. This is a story that will remain on my shelf for life. This is a story of compassion that I will take off the shelf and remind my children of regularly.

In addition this book is a bit extra special in my house. My son is half African with a father from Kenya. This book shows his father's native land in a positive and beautiful light. It will be used in my house to teach him about the other culture that is deep within him. My son is not a Maasai, but he is part of a Kenyan tribe. Living in the U.S. takes that piece away from him, but this book will show him one way in which a tribe of Africa can make a difference for a Great Nation and People. The last line of this book is amazing and sums up exactly the lesson I want him to learn,

"Because there is no nation so powerful it cannot be wounded, nor a people so small they cannot offer mighty comfort."

Absolutely beautiful!


  1. Beautiful review Alison! I'm so glad that it lived up to your expectations (because isn't that the worse when you buy based on someone else's review and then it didn't?). It's a beautiful book!