SHORTLISTED FOR THE BOOKER PRIZE 2020
‘DEVASTATING’ Marlon James, ‘A MODERN CLASSIC’ Andrew Sean Greer, ‘BRILLIANT’ Salman Rushdie, ‘MAGNIFICENT’ Aminatta Forna, ‘EPIC’ Mary Morris, ‘WONDERFUL’ Laila Lalami, ‘UNFORGETTABLE’ The Times, ‘REMARKABLE’ New York Times, 'A MASTERPIECE' Washington Post
With the threat of Mussolini’s army looming, recently orphaned Hirut struggles to adapt to her new life as a maid. Her new employer, Kidane, an officer in Emperor Haile Selassie’s army, rushes to mobilise his strongest men before the Italians invade.
Hirut 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. But how could she have predicted her own personal war, still to come, as a prisoner of one of Italy’s most vicious officers?
The Shadow King is a gorgeously crafted and unputdownable exploration of female power, and what it means to be a woman at war.
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.