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Maaza Mengiste Books In Order

Publication Order of Standalone Novels

Beneath the Lion's Gaze (2010)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
The Shadow King (2019)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Addis Ababa Noir (2020)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle

Maaza Mengiste is an Ethiopian American author of literary fiction best known as the author of “Beneath the Lion’s Gaze” and “The Shadow King.” She was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 1974 but left the country when she was four years old. She would live in Nigeria and Kenya before relocating to the United States. In the US, she attended New York University and got her Creative Writing MFA. Mengiste proved herself quite the scholar as she got a Fulbright Scholarship, was nominated for the Pushcart Prize and had her work featured in the likes of “The Granta Anthology of the African Short Story,” “The New York Times,” and the “Callaloo Journal.” “Beneath the Lion’s Gaze,” the debut novel was a critical and commercial success that made several Best of 2010 lists such as Christian Science Monitor, Publishers Weekly in addition to being translated into several languages. Maaza also got fellowships from the Emily Harvey Foundation, the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, and Yaddo. Apart from her literary fiction, she was also involved in writing “The Invisible City: Kakuma” a documentary about a refugee camp in the Kenyan desert and “Girl Rising” that tells of nine girls striving to attain security and education around the globe. The latter is part of the global action campaign “Girl Rising Project” on empowerment and education for girls and features the voices of Cate Blanchett, Liam Neeson, and Meryl Streep. She currently teaches Creative Writing at Princeton and serves on the boards of Warscapes and Words Without Borders.

Unlike many authors who say that they always knew they wanted to be a writer, Maaza is not that type. What she knew is that she loved to read and as a child, she would get lost in books and stories. Even in college her professors would praise her writing but she never got into creative writing. Once she graduated from college, Maaza got a job in advertising which is when she got the creative bug. While she had what was supposed to be a dream job in the film industry, she hated film development since she was involved in the marketing rather than the storytelling or any of the creative aspects. Mengiste remembers reading “Wretched of the Earth” by Frantz Fanon, a novel that made her memories crystalize. She had come to the United States as a refugee and was always interested in the stories of other people like her. When she had first come to the US, she had met a group of students that had fled from Muammar Gadhafi’s Libya and she reconciled this with her own story of flight from Ethiopia. Maaza felt her narrative take shape even as she was trying to make sense of her identity as a woman, a black person, and an immigrant in the United States. She applied for an MFA in Creative Writing at NYU where she learned all about lectures, festivals, reading and everything about the writing community. She also got to develop a critical voice that allowed her to accept criticism, revise her work and analyze literature. She finally published her first novel “Beneath the Lion’s Gaze” in 2010.

Maaza Mengiste’s “Beneath the Lion’s Gaze” is a novel set in 1970s Ethiopia that chronicles the last days of the Ethiopian monarchical rule and the beginning of the socialist military junta that took power. The novel follows the Hailu family as they struggle with difficult choices in an increasingly dangerous and complex political climate. It is an emotionally gripping and tragic tale that tells of the human price of revolution and the lengths people will go in the pursuit of freedom. In her second novel “The Shadow King,” she takes her readers to Ethiopia in 1935 at a time when Italian fascist dictator Mussolini invaded Ethiopia. The novel tells of an army of local women whose names and memories are lost to history even as they played a critical role in fighting off the fascist invaders. Writing using complicated characters, the novel explores what war is like for women. It is a mesmerizing, evocative and groundbreaking account of the role of women in war. These are not just caregivers but rather soldiers standing up for what they believe in and their country.

“Beneath the Lion’s Gaze” opens to Ethiopian people literally starving as the aloof and entitled emperor ignores their plight. But then seemingly out of nowhere the Emperor and his ministers are seized, detained or murdered by a new group of socialists who take control of the government. But the new regime unleashes untrained, uneducated and undisciplined soldiers on the populace. They steal, loot, commit violence against women, kill and take over private land. Due to its merciless campaign and paranoia, the new government seeks the help of the Soviet Union to maintain its iron grip on power. The story is told from the perspective of a respected doctor from Addis Ababa named Hailu. His mission is to save his patients and his family. The doctor’s trained eye tells the enraging level of violence meted on civilians he tries to save while trying to protect his family that is targeted by the authorities for trying to help people deemed dissidents. It is a fascinating look into Ethiopian history from an insider who is all too familiar with the happenings. Maaza knows all about the cultural underpinnings, the blending of long-held local beliefs and Christianity, and beneath it all the contempt for the aspirations of others, the ruthless abuse of power, and the disregard for the law by the rulers.

Mengiste’s “The Shadow King” is a novel set during the 1935 invasion of Ethiopia by Mussolini. The lead in the novel is a recently orphaned girl named Hirut who is working as a maid at the Kidane household. Her employer is an officer in the emperor’s army that had to leave in a huff when the Italians invaded. He had been very kind to Hirut before but suddenly turns cruel and flinty when she refuses his advances. She soon finds herself forced into overwhelming rage, theft, betrayal, and violation of everything she stood for. Meanwhile, the Italian army is thinking of the easy victory once they inevitably invade. There are also many among the invading army seeking adventure such as Ettore the Jewish photographer. With the war underway, Hirut and other women are eager to contribute to the war effort rather than just take care of the wounded and bury the dead. When the emperor has to flee into exile and the country is at its lowest point, it is up to Hirut who makes a plan that maintains the morale of the Ethiopian people. She disguises the emperor as a peasant and is soon working as his guard, inspiring many more to follow her lead in fighting the Italians. But her biggest test is soon to come at the hands of an Italian officer that will ask her to do some despicable act in front of a camera. It is an intriguing story gorgeously crafted in its exploration of female power that is driven by the brilliant, original and fierce voice of the lead character Hirut.

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