The Shadow King
With the threat of Mussolini's army looming, recently orphaned Hirut struggles to adapt to her new life as a maid in Kidane and his wife Aster's household. Kidane, an officer in Emperor Haile Selassie's army, rushes to mobilize his strongest men before the Italians invade. His initial kindness to Hirut shifts into a flinty cruelty when she resists his advances, and Hirut finds herself tumbling into a new world of thefts and violations, of betrayals and overwhelming rage. Meanwhile, Mussolini's technologically advanced army prepares for an easy victory. Hundreds of thousands of Italians--Jewish photographer Ettore among them--march on Ethiopia seeking adventure.
As the war begins in earnest, Hirut, Aster, and the other women long to do more than care for the wounded and bury the dead. When Emperor Haile Selassie goes into exile and Ethiopia quickly loses hope, it is Hirut who offers a plan to maintain morale. She helps disguise a gentle peasant as the emperor and soon becomes his guard, inspiring other women to take up arms against the Italians. But how could she have predicted her own personal war as a prisoner of one of Italy's most vicious officers, who will force her to pose before Ettore's camera?
What follows is a gorgeously crafted and unputdownable exploration of female power, with Hirut as the fierce, original, and brilliant voice at its heart. In incandescent, lyrical prose, Maaza Mengiste breathes life into complicated characters on both sides of the battle line, shaping a heartrending, indelible exploration of what it means to be a woman at war.
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About the AuthorMaaza Mengiste was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. A Fulbright Scholar and professor in the MFA in Creative Writing & Literary Translation program at Queens College, she is the author of The Shadow King and Beneath the Lion's Gaze, named one of the Guardian's Ten Best Contemporary African Books. Her work can be found in The New Yorker, Granta, and the New York Times, among other publications. She lives in New York City.
Monumental... 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.
A brilliant novel, lyrically lifting history towards myth. It's also compulsively readable. I devoured it in two days.--Salman Rushdie, author of Quichotte
Lyrical, remarkable... breathtakingly skillful... The reader feels...in the steady hands of a master... Hirut [is] as indelible and compelling a hero as any I've read in years.--Namwali Serpell
The Shadow King is not a story about helpless victims of colonial conquest. Against the odds, it is written in a key of pride and exaltation, and its characters have the outsize form of national heroes... Mengiste ambitiously stretches her canvas to include colliding perspectives... Stirring.--Sam Sacks
The Shadow King is a beautiful and devastating work; of women holding together a world ripping itself apart. They will slip into your dreams and overtake your memories.--Marlon James, author of Black Leopard, Red Wolf
The Shadow King is a novel about war and history, both epic in scope and intimate in detail...Maaza Mengiste has a gift for rendering everyone in this story, resister and invader alike, with great nuance and complexity, leaving us with no room for easy judgment. A wonderful book.--Laila Lalami, author of The Other Americans