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The Shadow King

A Novel

by Maaza Mengiste

The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste X
The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste
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  • Publishes in USA 
    Sep 24, 2019
    448 pages
    Genre: Historical Fiction

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There are currently 12 member reviews
for The Shadow King
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  • Joy E. (Rockville, MD)


    Mythic Tale of a Forgotten War
    The Shadow King is a beautifully written story of the war fought by the Ethiopians against the invading Italians in 1935. Mostly known by Westerners for the unsuccessful plea for help by Ethiopia's leader Haile Selasse to the League of Nations, this war was a lopsided and heart-breaking struggle in pastoral corner of Africa.

    Kidane is a local leader who gathers a ragtag army to fight against the ferenji or foreigners seeking to conquer their land. Hirut is a young, courageous servant in Kidane's household in the rural countryside. Slowly, inexorably, Hirut and Kidane's wife Aster take larger roles in the guerrilla warfare. Their inevitable failure unrolls slowly in poetic language that has the reader wishing for a different ending.

    The heroism of strong and proud men and women is wonder to read.
  • Borderlass, Belmont, MA


    An Exciting Addition to Feminist and African Literature
    This novel is defined by the sheer emotionality of the reading experience depicting Ethiopia's pursuit of independence from fascist Italian occupation. As one turns each page, one discovers yet another facet of war and how one terror passes only to yield to another of greater degree. The intensity of feelings these scenes promote are not intended to comfort the reader - rather to immerse one in some of one's worst nightmares - a disquieting experience beyond the capacities of sensitive readers. The author's clever use of dualities in style (e.g., lyrical prose describing violence) and in substance (class, gender, economics, and qualities of leadership - or its absence) are among its other hallmarks.

    This book would appeal to any reader of classic feminist or African literature and should be required reading for any government major or careerist needing a foundation in the roots of conflict. This brilliantly constructed novel, timewise, serves as a pre-quel to Mengiste's prior novel, "Beneath the Lion's Gaze," which captured the ensuing years of constant instability and combat in Ethiopia from a mostly male perspective. This - her latest - "The Shadow King" will be studied by and for women in war zones for its uniquely feminist discourse.
  • Rebecca R. (Western USA)


    A Stunning Epic Tale
    Although there have been many books written about or set in the time frame of World War Two, Maaza Mengiste's epic story is unique. There's no one book to which THE SHADOW KING can be compared; this is a 'Hotel Rwanda,' 'Gone With the Wind,' and "All Quiet on the Western Front,' rolled into one but set in Ethiopia and told with an emphasis on the female perspective of Hirut, an African enslaved to other Africans. Woven into this story is also the history of Emperor Haile Selassie who has loved his position of wealth and power and can not come to grips with the disintegration of his position.
    There are so many powerful sentences that make a reader stop and think about the truth contained in the words that you will never finish the book if you stop to log them all. Another strength of this book is its unflinching honesty about the ravages of war, from the rape of women to the important part that female fighters played in Ethiopia as Mussolini stepped up his quest for world power and personal glory at any cost, to the insensitivity of some wartime photographers, along with the horror of brave warriors fighting with spears against tanks and planes with mustard gas. At 419 pages (in my ARC) and a smaller font than many books these days, this is not a book for the faint of heart, but it deserves to be read!
  • Nicole S. (St. Paul, MN)


    Gripping!
    Maaza Mengiste had me hooked with the first page. What an incredible story. I found myself googling the historical pieces of the book to see if they were true and I was enthralled by the unraveling of this historical fiction. Mengiste Ms writing makes the foreign seem universal and the universal seem intimately unique. I can't wait to read her other works!
  • BETH CUMMINGS


    Disturbing History - The shadow King
    I wish I could say that I loved this book because the subject matter is something we should be aware of, but I didn't love it. Maaza Mengiste's writing is full of detail and poetic descriptions, however the descriptions were often so violent and horrific that it was hard to keep reading. I had almost no awareness of the Ethiopian vs Italian part of WWII and I'm glad I read the book since it gave me new information. I wish that she had been a bit more straightforward with the plot - jumping from character to character with little connection made for complicated reading. I hope when the final version comes out that they opt to use quotation marks to delineate speakers as that would help clear up some of the complexity. It could be a good book group discussion book, if the group can tackle long and difficult subjects.
  • Florence H. (Laguna Woods, CA)


    Shadow King
    War is described in Shadow King as "an outpouring of evil." The photographer, Ettore Navarro, is "an archivist of obscenities." Despite these truths and a personal aversion to war I still found this book to be a riveting account of a time in Ethiopia and the role women could play even though they might also be abused. One value of a book is that it stimulates an interest in knowing more. I'll be looking into Ethiopian history in the future.
  • Florence K. (Northridge, CA)


    The Shadow King
    This is an informative book of historical fiction well worth reading, albeit not a quick or easy read. In lyrical prose and beautiful descriptive language she proves decisively that war is indeed hell. And in a relatively novel way she relates that in the Italo-Ethiopian conflict of 1935-1936, African women played a significant, though under-credited role.

    She develops equally the characters on both sides of the battles and details the bestiality of this war. The invaders, the Italians, came with modern machines of death, while the Ethiopians fought valiantly with spears, outmoded guns and lack of materiel. An odd match with hulking Benito Mussolini as the antagonist and small, frail Haile Selassie as the defending SHADOW KING who went into exile in England. This was of course a prologue to the terrible bloodshed of World War II. The SHADOW KING is a book well worth reading.
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