Daughter of Dragons

Clarice Gargard had always known her father as an idealist who helped people and fought for those less fortunate— until she discovers he worked closely with Liberia’s dictator Charles Taylor. The journey to find out how a person with his ideals could have supported a tyrant takes her through the ancient kingdoms of Liberia to her own life as a West-African immigrant in the United States and Netherlands.

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Clarice M.D. Gargard

‘Everything about my family seemed like an incomprehensible mystery. The older I got, the more questions I had. To paint a clear picture of my own history, that of my family and country, I had to dig deep — into myself, as well.’

Liberia was established in 1847 by former enslaved people from the United States, becoming Africa’s first constitution- al republic. Unfortunately, the influx of culturally-different newcomers and the ensuing tensions with the indigenous clans did not result in a republic with democracy and freedom for all. In 1980, a coup by indigenous rebel leader Samuel Doe saw the country divide and its economy collapse. Nine years later, a second coup made dictator Charles Taylor the country’s 22nd president. He would hold onto power, through two civil wars, until 2003.

Gargard searches for the truth about her father, Sayyuo James Gargard, head of Liberia’s main telecommunications corporation, who worked under four Liberian presidents and was purportedly one of Taylor’s main advisors. Her family’s story begins with her grandfather, the last warrior king of Grand Bassa County, a wise but feared ruler, who was said to have set rival villages on fire from the back of a winged beast. Gargard learns about the struggle that was a part of her father’s childhood but also Liberia’s ancient traditions, spirituality and indigenous population. Delving into history, geo- politics and the role of the US in Liberia’s war affords her multiple perspectives on the country’s heavy-handed rulers and what it means to survive or thrive in a troubled nation.

Walking the line between good and evil in search of nuance, Gargard takes the reader on a tour of Liberia’s rich and tumultuous history. Childhood memories, including being given butterscotch biscuits by Taylor himself, interspersed with cultural insights and political analyses, make Daughter of Dragons as much a reflection on modern society as an intimate family portrait.

Gargard realizes only too well that to understand her father she’ll have to delve into her family’s history, that of Liberia, and her culture. Gargard does a good job of conveying her discomfort with her hero Daddy’s role: she’d rather avoid it. […] The conflicting emotions and interests, so innate to Liberia: that’s where the real story lies. And that’s good.

Het Parool
Clarice M.D. Gargard
Clarice M.D. Gargard (b. 1988) is a journalist, writer and social justice advocate. She was born in the United States to Liberian parents, and sent to the Netherlands at the age of four to escape the Liberian civil war.
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