Beyond the Book: Background information when reading Beneath the Lion's Gaze

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Beneath the Lion's Gaze

A Novel

by Maaza Mengiste

Beneath the Lion's Gaze by Maaza Mengiste
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jan 2010, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2011, 384 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

Buy This Book

About this Book

Beyond the Book

Print Review

The 1974 Ethiopian Revolution
Ethiopia was a monarchy until 1974, ruled by a dynasty that can be documented back to the 13th century, and claimed by oral tradition to trace its lineage to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Emperor Haile Selassie I, born in 1892, was the country's last emperor, beginning his rule as regent in 1916 and officially becoming emperor in 1930. He was considered both a modernizer and a unifier, and was generally held in high respect by his people and the international community.

Following an attempted coup in 1960, dissatisfaction with Selassie's reign grew, as his government struggled with economic and political reforms. A severe famine and drought in 1972-74 brought food shortages and high inflation to Ethiopia which, coupled with perceived government corruption, led to general discontent among the populace. The shortages also impacted those in the military, as low pay and insufficient food and supplies led to a wide-spread mutiny among the lower ranks. In response, low-ranking military officers formed the Derg (meaning "committee" or "council" in Ge'ez, an ancient semitic language that was once the official language of the Ethiopian Imperial Court) in June 1974, ostensibly to study grievances and root out corruption in the military. They rapidly gained power and popular support, and consequently obtained important concessions from Haile Selassie, including the power to arrest military officers and government officials at all levels. The Derg immediately imprisoned many senior imperial and regional government and military officials; the emperor was deposed and imprisoned on September 12, 1974.

Power struggles ensued among various groups seeking to govern Ethiopia, both within the Derg and outside of the organization. All parties became increasingly brutal in their attempts to gain control, with the Ethiopian people stuck in the middle of the conflict. General Mengistu Haile Mariam eventually won undisputed leadership of the Derg on February 3, 1977 and he subsequently formed a one-party communist state, backed by the Soviet Union. Mengistu instituted a campaign of terror targeting counterrevolutionaries (basically, anyone who objected to his policies). Young men and women were systematically murdered by Derg-sanctioned neighborhood watch committees. Their bodies were piled in the streets, and relatives were forbidden to claim them. A corpse hanging from a light pole or bridge was a common sight. Amnesty International estimates that half a million people died during the period, and many more thousands were imprisoned and tortured without trial. In addition, constant warfare with separatist guerrillas in Eritrea and Tigray, as well as mismanagement, corruption and general hostility to the Derg's violent rule, led to the country being unprepared for a severe drought which led to famine in the mid-1980s. The situation was exacerbated by the collapse of the Soviet Union, which had previously provided a great deal of monetary support to the regime. More than a million are thought to have died from starvation.

The Derg dissolved in 1987, and Ethiopia became the People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia under a new constitution, with Mengistu as president. Hostilities continued, however, eventually forcing Mengistu to flee to Zimbabwe, where he remains. An Ethiopian court convicted him in absentia of genocide in 2006.

For more about Ethiopia, see the sidebar to There Is No Me Without You

Article by Kim Kovacs

This article was originally published in January 2010, and has been updated for the January 2011 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

This article is available to non-members for a limited time. You can also read these articles for free. For full access become a member today.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Happiness
    Happiness
    by Heather Harpham
    Of the 53 reviews submitted for Happiness, 49 readers rated it a four- or five-star book for an ...
  • Book Jacket
    My Name Is Leon
    by Kit De Waal
    Kit de Waal's striking debut, My Name is Leon, has inspired this big, long, complicated question: ...
  • Book Jacket: New People
    New People
    by Danzy Senna
    Danzy Senna has spent virtually her entire writing career exploring the complicated intersections of...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Little Nothing by Marisa Silver

A stunning, provocative new novel from New York Times bestselling author Marisa Silver

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Young Jane Young
    by Gabrielle Zevin

    From the author of The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry comes a novel that will have everyone talking.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Resurrection of Joan Ashby

The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas

Epic, propulsive, incredibly ambitious, and dazzlingly written--a story about sacrifice and motherhood.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

I's A D Before D

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.