Summary and book reviews of Beneath the Lion's Gaze by Maaza Mengiste

Beneath the Lion's Gaze

A Novel

by Maaza Mengiste

Beneath the Lion's Gaze
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

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

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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About this Book

Book Summary

An epic tale of a father and two sons, of betrayals and loyalties, of a family unraveling in the wake of Ethiopia’s revolution.

This memorable, heartbreaking story opens in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 1974, on the eve of a revolution. Yonas kneels in his mother’s prayer room, pleading to his god for an end to the violence that has wracked his family and country. His father, Hailu, a prominent doctor, has been ordered to report to jail after helping a victim of state-sanctioned torture to die. And Dawit, Hailu’s youngest son, has joined an underground resistance movement—a choice that will lead to more upheaval and bloodshed across a ravaged Ethiopia.

Beneath the Lion’s Gaze tells a gripping story of family, of the bonds of love and friendship set in a time and place that has rarely been explored in fiction. It is a story about the lengths human beings will go in pursuit of freedom and the human price of a national revolution. Emotionally gripping, poetic, and indelibly tragic, Beneath The Lion’s Gaze is a transcendent and powerful debut.

Excerpt
Beneath the Lion's Gaze

The human heart, Hailu knew, can stop for many reasons.  It is a fragile, hollow muscle the size of a fist, shaped like a cone, divided into four chambers that are separated by a wall. Each chamber has a valve, each valve has a set of flaps as delicate and frail as wings.  They open and close, open and close, steady and organized, fluttering against currents of blood.  The heart is merely a hand that has closed around empty space, contracting and expanding.  What keeps a heart going is the constant, unending act of being pushed, and the relentless, anticipated response of pushing back.  Pressure is the life force.

Hailu understood that a change in the heart can stall a beat, it can flood arteries with too much blood and violently throw its owner into pain.  A sudden jerk can shift and topple one beat onto another.   The heart can attack, it can pound relentlessly on the walls of the sternum, swell and squeeze ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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. She has the remarkable ability to pull her readers into profound emotional depths with just a few eloquent sentences.   (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

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Media Reviews

New York Times

For all its beginner’s flaws, Beneath the Lion’s Gaze is an important novel, rich in compassion for its anguished characters.

Library Journal

Although the depictions of brutality are extensive, they are also realistic and captivating, helping place Lion's Gaze into a small cadre of Ethiopian fiction, including Abraham Verghese's Cutting the Stone and Camilla Gibb's Sweetness in the Belly. Fans of historical adult fiction will approve.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Ethiopia's 1974 revolution tears a family in half in this striking debut...that the novel subjects the reader to the same feelings of hopelessness and despair that its characters grapple with is a grand testament to Mengiste's talent.

Kirkus Reviews

An arresting, powerful novel that works on both personal and political levels.

Author Blurb Chris Abani, author of GraceLand and The Virgin of Flames
With words that make ‘a faint, tender bruise’ on the page, and a compassionate imagination that transforms everything it touches on, Maaza Mengiste delivers an important story from a part of Africa too long silent in the World Republic of Letters.

Author Blurb Uwem Akpan, author of Say You're One of Them
What a beautiful book! After a few chapters I felt I was a member of this family, a citizen of Ethiopia. Maaza Mengiste is talented and bold and fresh. Already, I'm looking forward to her next book.

Author Blurb Dagoberto Gilb, author of The Magic of Blood and The Flowers
Literature from the margins is often too poorly lit for us to see, but Mengiste takes us through this dark political hunt with the night vision of a lion. A novel both tender and brutal, fearless, it is accomplished beyond a first book.

Reader Reviews

Anno

Beneaath the Lion's Gaze
I was so looking forward to reading this book but the best thing I got out of it was that it motivated me to go on line and read more of the history of Ethiopia. The connection of that country and the daughter of Emily Pankhurst was most interesting...   Read More

donna nueva,

totally boring
I only read 1/2 of this book, as I couldn't stand reading it anymore. the characters were cardboard, the language and descriptions mediocre. I regret having bought it and gave it to the library.

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Beyond the Book

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...

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