The Fusil Gras (Wujigra) in Ethiopia: Background information when reading The Shadow King

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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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  • First Published:
    Sep 2019, 448 pages
    Oct 2020, 448 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Cook
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The Fusil Gras (Wujigra) in Ethiopia

This article relates to The Shadow King

1874 Fusil Gras rifle with walnut stock and 20 inch barrel

In The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste, Hirut has a particular attachment to a rifle that her father gave her, a Wujigra, which she goes out of her way to retrieve after Kidane takes it away from her while stockpiling weapons for his army. "Wujigra" is the Ethiopian term for the Fusil Gras, a French service rifle that was manufactured in the late 19th century. It is a single-shot rifle with a reputation for being robust, as is described in Mengiste's book: "A bolt-action, 11mm rifle designed to deliver a single lethal shot with consistent accuracy, a hardy gun able to withstand cold and rain, repeated and rapid firing."

The Fusil Gras was developed as an adaptation of the breech-loading Chassepot rifle and as a response to the German Mauser. It was named after Basile Gras, who created the gun by converting the Chassepot, which fired combustible paper cartridges holding lead bullets, to work with metallic ammunition that eliminated the issue of residue accumulating inside the gun...

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