Book Review: Beneath the Lion’s Gaze by Maaza Mengiste

Around The World For a Good Book selection for: Ethiopia

Author: Maaza Mengiste
Title: Beneath the Lion’s Gaze
Publication Info: New York : W.W. Norton & Co., c2010.
ISBN: 9780393071764


This is a beautifully written yet difficult to read book about Ethiopia in the 1970s.  Difficult to read mainly due to the violence and oppression that is all to characteristic of African novels I’ve read but to a lesser extent due to the large cast of characters.  I learned many things from this novel including that although Haile Selassie was respected as a world leader (and revered by Rastafarians) he was thought cruel in Ethiopia.  I learned that there was a major famine in 1972-74 and a revolution that overthrew the emperor and in his place reigned the Derg who imprisoned and executed tens of thousands of people.  This novel tells the story of these troubled times through one family all facing difficult choices amid the horrors of war and oppression.   It took me a long time to finish this book, but I’m glad I did.  Thomas Jefferson wrote “Travel makes a person wiser, if less happy.”  I think reading around the world has the same effect.

Recommended books: Gate of the Sun by Elias Khoury, The Trial of Robert Mugabe by Chielo Zona Eze, and Snakepit by Moses Isegawa.
Rating: ***1/2