Photo by Nina Subin
Maaza Mengiste is a novelist and essayist. She is the author of the novel, The Shadow King, which is shortlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize, and was a 2020 LA Times Book Prize Fiction finalist. It was named best book of the year by the New York Times, NPR, Elle, Time, and more. The Shadow King is now available in paperback and was called “a brilliant novel…compulsively readable” by Salman Rushdie.
Her debut novel, Beneath the Lion’s Gaze, was selected by The Guardian as one of the 10 best contemporary African books and named one of the best books of 2010 by Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and other publications.
She is the recipient of an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature, the Premio il ponte, and fellowships from the Fulbright Scholar Program, the National Endowment for the Arts, and Creative Capital. Her work can be found in The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, Granta, The Guardian, The New York Times, Rolling Stone, and BBC, among other places.
Set in Ethiopia at the very start of WWII, The Shadow King tells the story of orphaned Hirut, who struggles to adapt to her new life as a maid. Her employer, an officer in Emperor Haile Selassie’s army, rushes to mobilize his strongest men before the Italians invade.
As the war begins in earnest, Hirut and the other women long to do more than care for the wounded and bury the dead. When the Emperor goes into exile and Ethiopia quickly loses hope, it is Hirut who offers a plan to maintain morale. She helps disguise a gentle peasant as the emperor and soon becomes his guard, inspiring other women to take up arms.
But how could she have predicted her own personal war, still to come, as a prisoner of one of Italy’s most vicious officers? The Shadow King is a gorgeously crafted and unputdownable exploration of female power and what it means to be a woman at war.
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