Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Biographies/Autobiographies featuring Ethiopia

There is No Me Without You by Melissa Fay Greene

From Publishers Weekly: Not unlike the AIDS pandemic itself, the odyssey of Haregewoin Teferra, who took in AIDS orphans, began in small stages and grew to irrevocably transform her life from that of "a nice neighborhood lady" to a figure of fame, infamy and ultimate restoration. In telling her story, journalist Greene who had adopted two Ethiopian children before meeting Teferra, juggles political history, medical reportage and personal memoir. While succinctly interspersing a history of Ethiopia, lucidly tracing the history of AIDS from its early manifestation as "slim disease" in the late 1970s to its appearance as a bizarrely aggressive [form] of Kaposi's sarcoma in the early 1980s, and following the complex path of medication (a super highway in the West, a trail in Africa), Greene rescues Teferra from undeserved oblivion as well as rescuing her from undeserved obloquy (false accusations of child selling). As with her previous books (Praying for Sheetrock; The Temple Bombing; Last Man Out), Greene takes a very close look at what appears to be the fringe of an important social event and illuminates the entire subject. Ethiopia is home to "the second-highest concentration of AIDS orphans in the world"; even as some of the orphans find happy endings in American homes, Greene keeps the urgency of the greater crisis before us in this moving, impassioned narrative.

From Booklist: Haile's parents fled Ethiopia in 1976, two years after a brutal coup and the beatings that resulted in her father's paralysis. Her family relocated to central Minnesota, her father regained professional status as a scholar, and she eventually went to law school. The coup ended a centuries-old monarchy, replacing it with a dictatorship that was ousted by rebels in 1991. Twenty-five years after departing Ethiopia, Haile returns with her husband to explore the effect of the revolution and the upheaval that took away a sense of community. Although her family was reconstituted in the U.S., it was never the same. She gauges the change and measures the extent of her loss, even as she learns of her uncle's valiant efforts to maintain his engineering business and create jobs in a nation suffering from a faltering economy. Haile also sees firsthand remnants of timeless tradition and culture as well as a multicultural nation torn by ethnic divisions that threaten its sense of nationhood. This is a riveting and personal look at a nation still in turmoil.

From Amazon: In 1974 Hannah Pool was adopted from an orphanage in Eritrea and brought to England by her white adoptive father. She grew up unable to imagine what it must be like to look into the eyes of a blood relative until one day a letter arrived from a brother she never knew she had. Not knowing what to do with the letter, Hannah hid it away. But she was unable to forget it, and ten years later she finally decided to track down her surviving Eritrean family and embarked upon a journey that would take her far from the comfort zone of her metropolitan lifestye to confront the poverty and oppression of a life that could so easily have been her own.

From Publishers Weekly: "Hyenas are the most common, notorious predators in Ethiopia," notes Mezlekia, thus their power in local myth and as a metaphor for the forces that have torn Ethiopia apart in recent decades. This lyrical memoir of an Ethiopian childhood echoes both the myth and the violence of the hyena. In the first third of his literary debut, Mezlekia intersperses accounts of his mischievous, rebellious childhood with the magical tales told by his family to interpret various experiences: magic and spirits were part of everyday life for young Mezlekia. He also carefully delineates the customs of and relations between the Christian and Muslim communities in his hometown of Jijiga. (Mezlekia's mother, though a Christian, took her son to a Muslim medicine man to cleanse him following a series of boyish escapades.) But a third of the way through the text, the material world supplants the world of the spirit and innocence that governed Mezlekia's early childhoodAsocial and political upheaval ruled Ethiopian life in the late 1970s and '80s. At times, Mezlekia, who now lives in Canada, does not clearly describe the various factions that wrestled for power when he was a teenager and college student. But he treats the chaos and famine that enveloped his country with seriousness and styleA"The revolution was eating Ethiopian children at an alarming rate"Aand even while recounting famine and war, he never loses the wit that no doubt helped him to survive some of the worst humanity has to offer. (Jan.) Forecast: This lovely and terrible memoir will undoubtedly be well reviewed and thus reach readers interested not only in the fate of Africa but also in a lyrical account of a foreign childhood,

This is a Soul: The Mission of Rick Hodes by Marilyn Berger

From Amazon: Dr. Rick Hodes arrived in Africa more than two decades ago to help the victims of a famine, but he never expected to call this extremely poor continent his home. Twenty-eight years later, he is still there.

This Is a Soul tells the remarkable story of Rick Hodes's journey from suburban America to Mother Teresa's clinic in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. As a boy, Rick was devoted to helping those in need, and eventually he determined that becoming a doctor would allow him to do the most good. When he heard about famine in Africa, that's where he went, and when genocide convulsed Rwanda, he went into the refugee camps to minister to the victims. When he was told that Ethiopia was allowing its Jews to emigrate to Israel, he went to help. While there, he was drawn to Mother Teresa's mission in Addis Ababa. It was there that Rick found his calling when he began caring for the sickest children in one of the world's poorest countries. But he did more than that—he began taking them into his home and officially adopted five of them.

This Is a Soul is also a book filled with great joy and triumph. When Rick's kids return from surgery or life-saving treatments, he is exultant. "Seeing these people after surgery is like going to heaven," he says.

Marilyn Berger went to Africa to write about Dr. Hodes, but while there, she became involved with the story. When she came upon a small, deformed, and malnourished boy begging on the street, she recognized immediately that he had the exact disease Rick could cure. She took him to Rick, who eventually arranged for the boy to have a complicated and risky surgery, which turned out to be incredibly successful. The boy's story—intertwined with Rick's, and Marilyn's as well—is unforgettable in its pathos and subtle humor.

This Is a Soul is not just a story of the savior and the saved, it is a celebration of love and wisdom, and an exploration of how charity and devotion can actually change lives in an overcrowded, unjust, and often harsh world.

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


Sharon said...

Thanks for posting these-can't wait to read them. There is No Me without You was the first book I read after we decided to adopt-a must read!

Carey-Life in the Carpool Lane said...

I've read There is No Me Without You, Held at a Distance and My Father's Daughter and can recommend all three. I read all three before getting a referral and now that my children are home, I plan on rereading them with a possible new perspective (if I can only find the time!).

Not only do all three have to do with Ethiopia (or Eritrea in the case of My Father's Daughter) but they all three made me consider life from an adoptee's standpoint.

Rebecca in Held at a Distance was not adopted but she returns to Ethiopia as an adult, an Ethiopian by birth but does not know the language or culture.

Hannah in My Father's Daughter was a black Eritrean adopted into a white family and she too returns to her birth-country and feels like a foreigner. I loved My Father's Daughter but there are curse words if that bothers a reader.