Posts Tagged ‘Beneath The Lions Gaze’

For a long time, if we were looking for Ethiopian literature, it was like looking for the elusive unicorn – it was hard to find, especially if we were looking for something in English or in English translation. The only book with an Ethiopian link out there was ‘Cutting for Stone‘ by the American novelist Abraham Verghese. Then Dinaw Mengestu burst on the scene with a couple of novels on Ethiopia. And then Maaza Mengiste published her first novel ‘Beneath the Lion’s Gaze‘.

Maaza Mengiste’s first novel was well received and got acclaim in newspaper reviews, but I don’t remember bloggers and book reviewers in social media reading it or reviewing it. It mostly slipped below the radar, I think. Then nearly ten years later, Maaza Mengiste published her second novel ‘The Shadow King‘ and this time, the timing was right. The book caught on like wild fire, there was a buzz among reviewers everywhere, the book got into award shortlists, including the shortlist for the Booker Prize, and suddenly, a long time after she started out, Maaza Mengiste became an international literary star. Very well deserved, I think. It is so nice to see her put Ethiopian literature on the world map.

Ethiopia has gone through challenging times for the past 80 years. It started with the Italian invasion and after a brief lull of peace after the Second World War, a military dictatorship came to power with Russian support, with recurring coup d’etats every few years. Even the end of the Cold War era didn’t improve things, with the new democratically elected head of state of that time behaving like an emperor, a civil war continuing in Eritrea in the north, and frequent fights with Somalia in the south. These days things are getting worse, with the federal government going to war against one of the state governments – and I am not using ‘war’ as a metaphor here, because it is actual war with two armies fighting against each other. I hope the current Ethiopian leaders come to their senses, and step back and resolve their differences by peaceful means.

Having spent most of my early childhood in Ethiopia, I have a soft corner for this beautiful country and its wonderful people. Till I was around ten years old, nearly all my friends were Ethiopian. I used to consider myself a honorary Ethiopian when I was a kid (More about all this later in a separate post.) So it gives me a lot of pain to see one of my favourite countries hurtling from one crisis to another.

Maaza Mengiste focuses on two different parts of 20th century Ethiopian history in her two novels. Her first novel is set during the time the military coup overthrows the emperor. Her second novel is about the time of the Italian invasion. They are two different fascinating times of modern Ethiopian history, and I am looking forward to reading the two books soon.

Have you read either of Maaza Mengiste’s novels? What do you think about them?

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