Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Novels that take place in Ethiopia

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
From Publishers Weekly: Lauded for his sensitive memoir (My Own Country) about his time as a doctor in eastern Tennessee at the onset of the AIDS epidemic in the 80s, Verghese turns his formidable talents to fiction, mining his own life and experiences in a magnificent, sweeping novel that moves from India to Ethiopia to an inner-city hospital in New York City over decades and generations. Sister Mary Joseph Praise, a devout young nun, leaves the south Indian state of Kerala in 1947 for a missionary post in Yemen. During the arduous sea voyage, she saves the life of an English doctor bound for Ethiopia, Thomas Stone, who becomes a key player in her destiny when they meet up again at Missing Hospital in Addis Ababa. Seven years later, Sister Praise dies birthing twin boys: Shiva and Marion, the latter narrating his own and his brothers long, dramatic, biblical story set against the backdrop of political turmoil in Ethiopia, the life of the hospital compound in which they grow up and the love story of their adopted parents, both doctors at Missing. The boys become doctors as well and Vergheses weaving of the practice of medicine into the narrative is fascinating even as the story bobs and weaves with the power and coincidences of the best 19th-century novel.

Beneath the Lion's Gaze by Maaza Mengiste
From Publishers Weekly: Ethiopia's 1974 revolution tears a family in half in this striking debut. Drought, famine and mutiny in the military are stretching Emperor Haile Selassie's regime to the breaking point, and when it finally tears, Hailu, a skilled and respected doctor in Addis Ababa, must find a way to shepherd his extended family through the ensuing violence. His task is made no easier by the fact that his son Dawit's fiery youthful convictions place him at odds with his more circumspect older brother, Yonas, a university professor with a wife and child. But when soldiers request Hailu to treat a gruesomely tortured political prisoner, he makes a fateful choice that puts his family in the military junta's crosshairs. Mengiste is as adept at crafting emotionally delicate moments as she is deft at portraying the tense and grim historical material, while her judicious sprinkling of lyricism imbues this novel with a vivid atmosphere that is distinct without becoming overpowering. That the novel subjects the reader to the same feelings of hopelessness and despair that its characters grapple with is a grand testament to Mengiste's talent.

Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb
From Booklist: Lilly, a young white Muslim woman, is eight when her British parents are killed in Morocco, and she is placed in the care of a Muslim disciple, who fills her days with the teachings of Islam. She later moves to Ethiopia, where she becomes a nurse, teaches local girls to recite the Qur'an, and falls in love with Aziz, a medical student who supports the overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie. Lilly's tenuous ties to the monarchy force her to flee to London when Selassie is deposed, in 1974; there she immerses herself in a refugee support group and waits to be reunited with Aziz. Gibb adroitly flips back and forth between prerevolution Ethiopia, where Lilly, though a foreigner, is admired for her knowledge of Muslim teachings, and London in the 1990s, where she feels stronger ties to Muslim refugees than to the British, who feel increasingly threatened by the refugees' presence. Gibbs' novel is a gripping and provocative addition to the post-9/11 genre of fiction exploring the many facets of Islam

If you've read any of these books, please feel free to review them in the comments. Know of other novels featuring Ethiopia? Please leave a comment too!


Kelly said...

Just finished Cutting for Stone...loved it! I'd call it historical fiction (though he does explain some liberties he took at the end of the book) was a great read and I learned a lot about Ethiopia in the process. I would say it could have been edited down a smidge, but still recommend it!
-Kelly B

Carey-Life in the Carpool Lane said...

I've read both Cutting for Stone and Beneath the Lion's Gaze.

Cutting for Stone is very well written and uses Ethiopia as a backdrop that is subtly woven through the story.

Beneath the Lion's Gaze is not as well written. However, I still recommend it because you will learn so many details and nuances to a particular period of Ethiopia's history.

Sharon said...

I would recommend Cutting for Stone-well written and it made some of the history come alive for me.

Wayne B. said...

Gripping and emotionally powerful, "Cutting for Stone" is one of a very few books I have "read" again and again. Once I read it, it was as if a video-tape had been planted in me that kept showing various film clips over and over.