Beneath the Lion’s Gaze
1974, and Ethiopia is on the verge of revolution. Peasants starve in the drought-stricken countryside, while Emperor Haile Selassie remains sequestered in his palace, feeding his pet lions fresh meat every day. The time has come for change. But will replacing an ineffectual emperor with a military dictatorship improve Ethiopians’ lives, or will it catapult the country into a fresh reign of terror?
For one family in Addis Ababa, the revolution creates an emotional gulf that widens daily. Dawit seeks to help the underground resistance, placing himself and his family in continual danger. His brother Yonas wants only to protect his wife and daughter. Their father Hailu, a prominent doctor who witnesses the horrors of the war firsthand, dreams of a return to the way things were, when his wife was in good health and his sons on friendly terms. But when a victim of state-sanctioned torture is admitted to his hospital under guard, Hailu must decide whether to nurse the girl back to health, only to hand her back to her captors—or to help her die a merciful death and risk the consequent punishment. Whatever choices Hailu makes, his life will never return to the way it was before the revolution.
Maaza Mengiste, drawing from her own upbringing in Ethiopia, brings us a powerful and heart-wrenching debut. The novel begins slowly, with frequent shifts in viewpoint, and the reader must take some time to grow close to the characters. Once the action starts, however, the characters are catapulted from one tragedy to the next in an accelerating sequence of events. The book is not for the weak of heart: rape, murder, torture, and suicide are dealt with in no uncertain terms. But despite the pervading grief, a few thin beams of sunlight—and family reconciliation—eventually break through. An unforgettable work.