BookBrowse Reviews Beneath the Lion's Gaze by Maaza Mengiste

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

Reviews

BookBrowse:


A debut novel set in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on the cusp of revolution

Beneath the Lion's Gaze is the outstanding debut novel of an unquestionably gifted writer. Maaza Mengiste's style is absolutely beautiful; she flawlessly combines flowing description and contemplative characters with an action-oriented plot. Often "poetic writing" is synonymous with "slow reading," but this novel is engrossing from start to finish. Mengiste has the remarkable ability to pull her readers into profound emotional depths with just a few eloquent sentences.

Hailu stared at the long shadows in the living room he once shared with [his wife] Selam. How many nights, how many of these moons did I watch shrink back into sunlight, then dusk with that woman by my side? It is 1974 and I am afraid without you, he admitted for the first time. Nothing I have ever learned has prepared me for the days ahead if you leave me now.

Another notable aspect of Mengiste's writing is her extraordinary ability to develop her characters. My first impression of the major players was that they were too archetypically one-sided (the dispassionate physician, the rebellious son, etc.), but they were so well drawn that I quickly became immersed in their lives and situations. Over the course of the book, as these characters lose their naiveté they lose their one-dimensionality. Their certainty about themselves and their positions about what is right and wrong fade until they realize there are only shades of grey. They all commit deeds of which they are proud, as well as acts of which they're deeply ashamed, making them very real, very human, and ultimately leading them to the conclusion that the love of one's family is all-important. It is their emotional journeys and self-discovery that make their stories so absorbing.

Although set against the backdrop of the 1974 Ethiopian Revolution, for the most part the region's history is secondary to the plot and Mengiste makes no attempt to explain how such chaos developed. While this has the benefit of focusing the reader's attention on the people affected by the conflict and their relationships with one another, it may leave some feeling adrift. Those requiring a bit more background would do well to peruse a brief history of the area (see sidebar).

Reading Beneath the Lion's Gaze is an intense experience, and many scenes will likely be too raw for some readers. Mengiste doesn't spare her audience vivid descriptions of the horrors endured by the innocents caught in the middle of the conflict. There are detailed descriptions of torture, including that of a child, which may prove too extreme for some readers and will likely limit the popular appeal of this exceptionally fine, emotionally powerful debut. Those who can get past the violent nature of the book will find a compelling novel well worth their time.

Above: Mengistu Haile Mariam
Below: Addis Ababa today

Reviewed by Kim Kovacs

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



This review is available to non-members for a limited time. 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: The Islamic Enlightenment
    The Islamic Enlightenment
    by Christopher de Bellaigue
    In this comprehensive and well-researched history, de Bellaigue examines the evolution of Islamic ...
  • Book Jacket: The Leavers
    The Leavers
    by Lisa Ko
    The day before Deming Guo saw his mother for the last time, she surprised him at school. A navy blue...
  • Book Jacket: Wonderful Feels Like This
    Wonderful Feels Like This
    by Sara Lovestam
    High school is hard; or perhaps, more accurately, growing up and finding oneself is hard. This is ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood

A richly layered novel of hearts broken seemingly beyond repair and then bound by a stunning act of human devotion.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Scribe of Siena
    by Melodie Winawer

    Equal parts transporting love story, meticulously researched historical fiction, and compelling time-travel narrative.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Chalk Pit

The Chalk Pit:
A Ruth Galloway Mystery

A string of murders takes Ruth underground in the newest book in the series.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

T W Don't M A R

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.

 
Modal popup -