Set during Mussolini's 1935 invasion of Ethiopia, The Shadow King takes us back to the first real conflict of World War II, casting light on the women soldiers who were left out of the historical record. At its heart is orphaned maid Hirut, who finds herself tumbling into a new world of thefts and violations, of betrayals and overwhelming rage. What follows is a heartrending and unputdownable exploration of what it means to be a woman at war.
"Mengiste's indelible first novel, Beneath the Lion's Gate (2010), put Ethiopian historical fiction on countless best-of, must-read, and award lists. Her monumental new novel draws inspiration from her great-grandmother, who as the eldest and in Mulan-style answered Emperor Haile Selassie's demand for first sons to fight against Fascist Italy despite her father's objections, insisting that her brothers were too young. In her author's note, Mengiste explains that her brave predecessor represents one of the many gaps in European and African history,"" namely, ""Ethiopian women who fought alongside men."" In1974 in the novel, just before Selassie is dethroned, Hirut arrives in Addis Ababa bearing a box filled with the many dead that insist on resurrection. Almost four decades earlier, in 1935, Hirut was an orphaned servant who followed her master, Kidane, and his wife, Aster, into battle against Mussolini's invading troops. The women are initially relegated to being caretakers but prove themselves to be fierce as warriors. Hirut eventually plays servant to the titular Shadow King, a stand-in for the secluded emperor, who remains safe in England while his country bleeds. Mengiste's extraordinary characters shrewd Kidane, militant Aster, the enigmatic cook, narcissistic Italian commander Fucelli, conflicted photographer Ettore, elusive prostitute Fifi, even haunted Selassie epitomize the impossibly intricate ties between humanity and monstrosity, and the unthinkable, immeasurable cost of survival.--Terry Hong Copyright 2010 Booklist"
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Publisher's Weekly Review:
"Mengiste (Beneath the Lion's Gaze) again brings heart and authenticity to a slice of Ethiopian history, this time focusing on the Italian invasion of her birth country in 1935. While Hirut, a servant girl, and her trajectory to becoming a fierce soldier defending her country are the nexus of the story, the author elucidates the landscape of war by focusing on individuals--offering the viewpoints (among others) of Carlo Fucelli, a sadistic colonel in Mussolini's army; Ettore Navarra, a Jewish Venetian photographer/soldier tasked with documenting war atrocities; and Haile Selassie, the emperor bearing the weight of his country's devastation at the hand of the Italians. In Hirut, Mengiste depicts both a servant girl's low status and the ferocity of her spirit--inspired by the author's great-grandmother who sued her father for his gun so she could enlist in the Ethiopian army--which allows her to survive betrayal by the married couple she serves and her eventual imprisonment by Fucelli, captured with horrifying detail by Navarra's camera. Mengiste breaks new ground in this evocative, mesmerizing account of the role of women during wartime--not just as caregivers, but as bold warriors defending their country. (Sept.)"
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved