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The Shadow King
Cover of The Shadow King
The Shadow King
A Novel
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Longlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize, and named a best book of the year by the New York Times, NPR, Elle, Time, and more, The Shadow King is an "unforgettable epic from an immensely talented author who's unafraid to take risks" (Michael Schaub, NPR).

Set during Mussolini's 1935 invasion of Ethiopia, The Shadow King takes us back to the first real conflict of World War II, casting light on the women soldiers who were left out of the historical record. At its heart is orphaned maid Hirut, who finds herself tumbling into a new world of thefts and violations, of betrayals and overwhelming rage. What follows is a heartrending and unputdownable exploration of what it means to be a woman at war.

Longlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize, and named a best book of the year by the New York Times, NPR, Elle, Time, and more, The Shadow King is an "unforgettable epic from an immensely talented author who's unafraid to take risks" (Michael Schaub, NPR).

Set during Mussolini's 1935 invasion of Ethiopia, The Shadow King takes us back to the first real conflict of World War II, casting light on the women soldiers who were left out of the historical record. At its heart is orphaned maid Hirut, who finds herself tumbling into a new world of thefts and violations, of betrayals and overwhelming rage. What follows is a heartrending and unputdownable exploration of what it means to be a woman at war.

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Awards-
About the Author-
  • Born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Maaza Mengiste received a 2020 Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Also a Fulbright Scholar and a professor at Queens College, she is the author of The Shadow King and Beneath the Lion's Gaze, and a 2018 recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. She lives in New York City.
Reviews-
  • Library Journal

    April 1, 2019

    Ethiopian-born Mengiste (Beneath the Lion's Gaze, among the Guardian's Ten Best Contemporary African Books) here revisits the land of her birth in the 1930s. With Mussolini preparing to invade, Emperor Haile Selassie heads into exile, and orphaned servant Hirut helps disguise a peasant as the emperor to bring people hope. Soon Hirut becomes his guard, as Mengiste shows us the brutal reality of ordinary people fighting a better-armed foe.

    Copyright 2019 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Kirkus

    July 15, 2019
    An action-filled historical novel by Ethiopian American writer Mengiste (Beneath the Lion's Gaze, 2010). The Italians who invaded Ethiopia in 1935 under the orders of the man whom the conquered people insist on calling, in quiet resistance, Mussoloni came aching to avenge a loss they had suffered 40 years earlier. They might have remembered how fiercely the Ethiopians fought. Certainly the protagonist of Mengiste's story, a young woman named Hirut, does. In a brief prologue, we find her returning to the capital, where she has not been for decades, in 1974, in order to find an audience with the emperor, Haile Selassie, who is just about to be overthrown. She has a mysterious box, inside of which, Mengiste memorably writes, "are the many dead that insist on resurrection." The box comes from the war nearly 40 years earlier, and it is an artifact full of meaning. Hirut was nothing if not resourceful back then: A servant in a wealthy household, she becomes a field nurse, but as the war deepens, she takes up arms and becomes a fighter herself, "the brave guard of the Shadow King"--the Shadow King being a villager who bore a reasonable enough resemblance to the emperor, who has gone into hiding, to be dressed like him, taught his mannerisms, and sent out in public in order to rally the dispirited Ethiopian people. "There are oaths that hold this world together," Mengiste writes, "promises that cannot be left undone or unfulfilled." Such is the oath that the emperor broke by fleeing the fight. Mengiste is a master of characterization, and her characters reveal just who they are by their actions; always of interest to watch is the Italian colonel Carlo Fucelli, who is determined to win glory for himself, and a soldato named Ettore Navarra, who has learned Amharic and wants nothing more than to live a quiet life, preferably with Hirut by his side. Hirut herself is well rounded and thoroughly fascinating--and not a person to be crossed. A memorable portrait of a people at war--a war that has long demanded recounting from an Ethiopian point of view.

    COPYRIGHT(2019) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from July 29, 2019
    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.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from August 1, 2019
    Mengiste's indelible first novel, Beneath the Lion's Gate (2010), put Ethiopian historical fiction on countless best-of, must-read, and award lists. Her monumental new novel draws inspiration from her great-grandmother, who as the eldest and in Mulan-style answered Emperor Haile Selassie's demand for first sons to fight against Fascist Italy despite her father's objections, insisting that her brothers were too young. In her author's note, Mengiste explains that her brave predecessor represents one of the many gaps in European and African history," namely, "Ethiopian women who fought alongside men." In1974 in the novel, just before Selassie is dethroned, Hirut arrives in Addis Ababa bearing a box filled with the many dead that insist on resurrection. Almost four decades earlier, in 1935, Hirut was an orphaned servant who followed her master, Kidane, and his wife, Aster, into battle against Mussolini's invading troops. The women are initially relegated to being caretakers but prove themselves to be fierce as warriors. Hirut eventually plays servant to the titular Shadow King, a stand-in for the secluded emperor, who remains safe in England while his country bleeds. Mengiste's extraordinary characters?shrewd Kidane, militant Aster, the enigmatic cook, narcissistic Italian commander Fucelli, conflicted photographer Ettore, elusive prostitute Fifi, even haunted Selassie?epitomize the impossibly intricate ties between humanity and monstrosity, and the unthinkable, immeasurable cost of survival.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2019, American Library Association.)

  • New York Times Book Review, Editors' Choice Lyrical, remarkable.
  • BookPage (starred review) Stunning.... [Mengiste] produced a work of fiction that is epic in reach, with brilliant borrowings from the forms of classic tragedy.... The book is impossible to put down or put out of mind.
  • Sam Sacks;Wall Street Journal [The Shadow King] is written in a key of pride and exaltation, and its characters have the outsize form of national heroes.... Stirring.
  • Elizabeth Sile;Real Simple Ambitious and illuminating.
  • Katie Noah Gibson;Shelf Awareness The Shadow King exposes a brutal chapter in Ethiopia's history and urges readers to listen for the untold stories of war, especially those of women.
  • The New Yorker Capacious.... adopts the register of myth to shape an epic of nationhood and resistance.
  • Francesca Capossela;Los Angeles Review of Books A beautiful and thoughtful epic.
  • Booklist (starred review) Monumental.... Mengiste's extraordinary characters—shrewd Kidane, militant Aster, the enigmatic cook, narcissistic Italian commander Fucelli, conflicted photographer Ettore, elusive prostitute Fifi, even haunted Selassie—epitomize the impossibly intricate ties between humanity and monstrosity, and the unthinkable, immeasurable cost of survival.
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