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The Shadow King


An unforgettable epic shortlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize, and named a best ...
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Overall, what do you think of The Shadow King (no spoilers in this thread please)

Created: 09/16/20

Replies: 20

Posted Sep. 16, 2020 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
davinamw

Join Date: 10/15/10

Posts: 2619

Overall, what do you think of The Shadow King (no spoilers in this thread please)

Overall, what do you think of The Shadow King (no spoilers in this thread please)


Posted Sep. 18, 2020 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
janines

Join Date: 11/21/16

Posts: 17

RE: Overall, what do you think of The Shadow King (no spoilers in this thread please)

I struggled reading this book. I'm not sure if it was the author's style, the way the story unfolded or some of the characters who came to grate on me, but it just never resonated with me, though I did finish it. I liked the book's premise and the history behind it. The section detailing the fighting and clashes with the Italians was probably the most interesting. On a more positive note, I think focusing on women's contributions to their country in whatever form needs to be highlighted because too often in writing the history, the focus is always on the "men" and less on the women behind the men who probably played an equal if not greater part. In that respect, this book is important.


Posted Sep. 18, 2020 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
ssh

Join Date: 02/04/14

Posts: 26

RE: Overall, what do you think of The Shadow King (no spoilers in this thread please)

I found this to be a very dark and depressing book. I would not recommend it to the group with whom I share books. That said, I realize I probably find most books on war to be dark and depressing. I expected inhumane treatment between the two countries. I did not expect to see the cruelty, sexism and class bias though that I felt was just presented as a fact of Ethiopian life. But, yes, the positive is that the role of women in war was highlighted.


Posted Sep. 19, 2020 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
laurap

Join Date: 06/19/12

Posts: 325

RE: Overall, what do you think of The Shadow King (no spoilers in this thread please)

A Goodreads review I did not write captured my attitude toward this book quite aptly: I admired it, but I did not like it. The language of the book is both poetic and impressionistic; this makes the book slow to read, negating much of its dramatic tension. Also, as the over 420 pages progress, all this gauzy prose gets old, and the impact of some very powerful scenes is diminished because of that overuse. There is much violence in the book, and there are times when the horror gets lost in the fog.

Additionally, the book has a strange structure. In addition to subdivided chapters (untitled), there are "interludes" (mostly about Haile Selassie), comments by a "chorus," (apparently some sort of group standing above the clouds looking down on the scene), and detailed descriptions of Ettore's "photos" -- which were not particularly effective except in very selective cases.

So while I celebrate the author's story, I didn't much like her style. I confess to being more of a plot-driven story fan, and one who prefers direct language to gauzy images, so this may be my problem. I definitely did not find it so be "unputdownable" (per the jacket copy).


Posted Sep. 19, 2020 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
amya

Join Date: 02/13/20

Posts: 1

RE: Overall, what do you think of The Shadow King (no spoilers in this thread please)

I found the book to be very slow and difficult to read. There are very few books I don't finish, but I just didn't feel my life was long enough for this.
I was interested in the historical aspect and the role the women played but just could not get into the slow pace the author chose.


Posted Sep. 19, 2020 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
roberti

Join Date: 09/19/20

Posts: 5

RE: Overall, what do you think of The Shadow King (no spoilers in this thread please)

I liked the book very much, tho it took a while getting thru the horrors and abuse by learning the adaptations the characters had to make to survive. Only after I got to know the characters and their roles and allegiances did I appreciate the depth of character portrayed in the story.


Posted Sep. 19, 2020 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
carolt

Join Date: 03/25/17

Posts: 110

RE: Overall, what do you think of The Shadow King (no spoilers in this thread please)

I loved the lyrical writing and almost poetic style, and found the women's role in the war, but didn't care for the book and would not have finished it if I hadn't promised to be part of this discussion.


Posted Sep. 19, 2020 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
jenbrinkley

Join Date: 04/05/16

Posts: 11

RE: Overall, what do you think of The Shadow King (no spoilers in this thread please)

Ethiopia's history has fascinated me for many years so I was eager to read The Shadow King, knowing it was written from the perspective of a native Ethiopian. The story and characters are very interesting. It was intriguing to read the history of each character and discover what occurred to influence their actions during the war against Italy. The author beautifully described each scene surrounding the characters and conveyed their thoughts in a most interesting way. The recurring theme of light and shadow used to describe transition in a scene was effective. However, the style of writing was difficult to traverse without traditional punctuation. At times I was unsure which character was speaking. Adapting to reading this style took perseverance. For that reason the book was too long in my opinion.


Posted Sep. 19, 2020 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
Marcia S

Join Date: 02/08/16

Posts: 344

RE: Overall, what do you think of The Shadow King (no spoilers in this thread please)

My book discussion group had just read Corelli's Mandolin— not an easy read! I found this book to be so close to Corelli's Mandolin, concerning war and personal relationships. I'll be honest, I wasn't crazy about the book as it was dark and sad. It was well-written and I appreciated what the women, Hirut and Aster, endured and provided toward the defense of their country.


Posted Sep. 20, 2020 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
sandra54

Join Date: 05/01/13

Posts: 62

RE: Overall, what do you think of The Shadow King (no spoilers in this thread please)

I enjoyed the book but wish I had stronger background in the history of the events unfolding.


Posted Sep. 21, 2020 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
phenkat

Join Date: 07/29/11

Posts: 17

RE: Overall, what do you think of The Shadow King (no spoilers in this thread please)

I struggled, and then fell into it. It was so verbose it felt dreamy. She is a captivating writer.
I was reading another "slave" narrative at the time and was feeling pretty impatient with the victims, who fall wordless and motionless all the time. In fact, I'm still impatient with people who a) can't or won't speak and b) are completely ruled by emotion and physical state. I'm so used to the Western way of thinking that I don't understand subtlety and lack of logic.


Posted Sep. 22, 2020 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
Bluebook

Join Date: 05/29/20

Posts: 5

Thoughts on Shadow King

I struggled with this book. Yes the writing is lyrical and very well done, but I was often left wanting more details or at least more background. For example, I wanted more background for impending war with Mussolini’s Italy to support the female characters importance in conflict.


Posted Sep. 22, 2020 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
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bookfabulous

Join Date: 08/01/19

Posts: 19

RE: Overall, what do you think of The Shadow King (no spoilers in this thread please)

This was definitely not an easy historical read and I agree with many of the comments that argue that the book could have been shorter. However, that said, I found it to be a very powerful book in terms of theme, as well as an in depth look into the compulsions that drive people to do what they do: to love, to hate, to battle, to forgive, to forget, to live and to die. It successfully explores man's obsession with glory and being remembered. A novel about love for the motherland and the lengths her children - male and female - will go to in order to secure her favour.


Posted Sep. 23, 2020 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
ylhoff

Join Date: 10/23/12

Posts: 70

RE: Overall, what do you think of The Shadow King (no spoilers in this thread please)

While the cadence and flow were beautifully descriptive, I had to make myself finish. There are only so many awful mistakes, violence, heartache and trouble I can stand. That there was no true resolution made it even harder to finish.


Posted Sep. 26, 2020 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
acstrine

Join Date: 02/06/17

Posts: 293

RE: Overall, what do you think of The Shadow King (no spoilers in this thread please)

I struggled with the book early on- -mostly, I think, due to my own lack of background knowledge. However, once Hirut noticed the similarities between Minim and Selassie, I was completely sucked into the story and could not stop reading. I celebrated the power, courage, and perseverance of Ethiopia's women.

I found the description of war, particularly the way the Italians fought, to be horrific. However, I think it is important that we are aware that decorated generals and soldiers become that way most often by inflicting unspeakable horrors upon others. War is violent and often filled with human rights violations. So too are our attitudes against our perceived enemies. That side of conflict shouldn't be minimized or lost in the bigger picture of winning, national pride, or personal triumphs.


Posted Sep. 28, 2020 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
elisabethc

Join Date: 07/16/19

Posts: 42

RE: Overall, what do you think of The Shadow King (no spoilers in this thread please)

I enjoyed the book's focus on the inner consciousness of characters who in a different kind of novel might be portrayed as either pure victims or villains. War experiences in popular English-language entertainment and a lot of books are presented in terms of the horrors of war, or a simplistic kind of heroism, but this one gives attention to immediate sensory experiences and interesting moral questions about not just war but its aftermath.


Posted Sep. 29, 2020 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
jenniferk

Join Date: 02/08/20

Posts: 8

RE: Overall, what do you think of The Shadow King (no spoilers in this thread please)

I loved the book because it took me to a point in history about which I knew nothing. I love reading untold stories of those who are forgotten or never known (I love Ruta Sepetys). The cadence of the writing is nothing short of exceptional- there's a reason this was short listed for the Booker prize. It's always fascinating to read a lyrical account of a brutal event or set of circumstances.


Posted Sep. 30, 2020 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
windellh

Join Date: 11/05/17

Posts: 59

RE: Overall, what do you think of The Shadow King (no spoilers in this thread please)

I at first struggled with this book because of not knowing the history and culture of this African nation. It was confusing and slow to start. I found the last part of the book to be an exciting and uplifting read. It once again proves that no one wins in war.


Posted Oct. 02, 2020 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
ireneh

Join Date: 11/22/19

Posts: 29

RE: Overall, what do you think of The Shadow King (no spoilers in this thread please)

I agree with those who struggled with the book. Intellectually, I admired the style and writing which was poetic and creative through the integration of Interludes and the Chorus. The construct reminded me of reading a Greek tragedy.
However, like so many of you, I struggled to finish the book because the tragedy was so unrelenting and the horrors so present on every page. This is the first book I've received which I haven't finished reading. I go back to it daily with a sense of duty. Then I get so upset by the events depicted therein, that I stop reading. What makes the plot feel harder to get through is that the events depicted have happened more recently in so many countries that the book, while historic, feels like the precursor of the horrific events in the Mid-East, Sudan, Yemen, etc. Reading it makes me sad for the state of the world today.


Posted Oct. 08, 2020 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
janicea

Join Date: 04/20/17

Posts: 28

RE: Overall, what do you think of The Shadow King (no spoilers in this thread please)

Like many prior reviewers posted, I too have mixed feelings about the book. Overall, the book is an important historical novel. First, so much written about World War II concentrates on the European front and as a result my knowledge of Africa’s (and especially Ethiopia’s) involvement in the war is minimal. This book helps to fill that void. Second, typically women in war are depicted as behind the front working as nurses, care providers, or members of the resistance movement. Women as warriors is a rare concept and this book illustrates the women can succeed in such a role. The author chronicled a story that truly illustrates that this war was indeed a world war.


Posted Oct. 14, 2020 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
ashleighp

Join Date: 09/15/20

Posts: 12

RE: Overall, what do you think of The Shadow King (no spoilers in this thread please)

Overall, on the broadest scale I can take it - this book was beautiful and lyrical. The author’s way with words is effortless and you just glide through the story. That being said, it is an extremely dark and raw novel that may be too much for some, especially those with traumas related to sex or abuse. But overall, I am looking forward to anything Mengiste writes.


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