The Shadow King
A gripping novel set during Mussolini’s 1935 invasion of Ethiopia, The Shadow King takes us back to the first real conflict of World War II, casting light on the women soldiers who were left out of the historical record.With the threat of Mussolini’s army looming, recently orphaned Hirut struggles to adapt to her new life as a maid in Kidane and his wife Aster’s household. Kidane, an officer in Emperor Haile Selassie’s army, rushes to mobilize his strongest men before the Italians invade. His initial kindness to Hirut shifts into a flinty cruelty when she resists his advances, and Hirut finds herself tumbling into a new world of thefts and violations, of betrayals and overwhelming rage. Meanwhile, Mussolini’s technologically advanced army prepares for an easy victory. Hundreds of thousands of Italians—Jewish photographer Ettore among them—march on Ethiopia seeking adventure.As the war begins in earnest, Hirut, Aster, and the other women long to do more than care for the wounded and bury the dead. When Emperor Haile Selassie 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 against the Italians. But how could she have predicted her own personal war as a prisoner of one of Italy’s most vicious officers, who will force her to pose before Ettore’s camera?What follows is a gorgeously crafted and unputdownable exploration of female power, with Hirut as the fierce, original, and brilliant voice at its heart. In incandescent, lyrical prose, Maaza Mengiste breathes life into complicated characters on both sides of the battle line, shaping a heartrending, indelible exploration of what it means to be a woman at war.

The Shadow King Details

TitleThe Shadow King
Author
ReleaseSep 24th, 2019
PublisherW. W. Norton Company
ISBN-139780393083569
Rating
GenreHistorical, Historical Fiction, Fiction, Cultural, Africa, Eastern Africa, Ethiopia

The Shadow King Review

  • Nenia ☠️ Hecka Wicked ☠️ Campbell
    January 1, 1970
    Instagram || Twitter || Facebook || Amazon || Pinterest DNF @ p. 194This book is set during WWII, under the reign of Mussolini, and it's about the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. There are three main characters: Kidane is a soldier in Selassie's army; Aster is his wife, who married him as a child and resents him to this day; and Hirut is their servant, an orphan who ends up becoming something more when her cruel employers drive her to desperation. Friends and neighbors, I wanted to love this boo Instagram || Twitter || Facebook || Amazon || Pinterest DNF @ p. 194This book is set during WWII, under the reign of Mussolini, and it's about the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. There are three main characters: Kidane is a soldier in Selassie's army; Aster is his wife, who married him as a child and resents him to this day; and Hirut is their servant, an orphan who ends up becoming something more when her cruel employers drive her to desperation. Friends and neighbors, I wanted to love this book. I do love the cover; it's gorgeous and drew me in right away. I also love the concept, as I had never even heard of the Ethiopian invasion, which just goes to show the definitive Western bias in history textbooks. I was eager to learn more and be sucked into a story that would shock me, humble me, and entertain me by turns, while teaching me about a time period I literally knew nothing about. But I did not love it.This book is so boring. There is action but it is not very well written and the author takes the Jose Saramgao/Cormac McCarthy tack in that she doesn't believe in quotation marks for dialogue tags. When multiple people are speaking per paragraph, this makes it really hard to follow what is going on. The pacing is also majorly off. Even though this book had a great beginning, pretty soon everything began to become molasses slow, and the lack of punctuation didn't help. To give context, my bus broke down and I played with my phone instead of reading this, even though we were stalled for a good twenty minutes. That's how bored I was.Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!1 star
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  • Never Without a Book™
    January 1, 1970
    This book is brilliant. The writing phenomenal. You got to read this.
  • Ray Foy
    January 1, 1970
    This is a brilliant book, both in the writing and its literary construction. The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste is, at the surface level, historical fiction set mostly in the 1935-1936 period in Ethiopia when Mussolini’s Italy invaded. It is a character study in that it follows the motivations, sorrows, and ambitions of people on both sides of the conflict. Insomuch as it shows their mental and spiritual flip-flopping as they struggle with events, it is a morality play. The story-lines for these This is a brilliant book, both in the writing and its literary construction. The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste is, at the surface level, historical fiction set mostly in the 1935-1936 period in Ethiopia when Mussolini’s Italy invaded. It is a character study in that it follows the motivations, sorrows, and ambitions of people on both sides of the conflict. Insomuch as it shows their mental and spiritual flip-flopping as they struggle with events, it is a morality play. The story-lines for these characters cover a violent period of history and the action is depicted with all it’s terror and cruelty. The pressure of conflict never slows, creating an action-driven central plot that keeps readers engrossed. So this is a complex novel, with its many layers supporting themes of where meaning in life is to be found, and what is its relation to warfare and patriotism (the latter being colored by delusion and myth).When Mussolini invaded Ethiopia in October of 1935, Ethiopia’s inferior (to the Italians) army braced to defend against them. Supporting the regular army were militias commanded by local leaders. One of these leaders is Kidane, a man capable of both cruelty and condescending kindness. He rules his household with a firm hand, though with some resistance from his wife, Aster. Kidane and Aster have no children (their one son has died), but they have taken in the daughter of a childhood friend of Kidane’s, Hirut. Kidane’s relation to Hirut is a driving metaphor of this story.Kidane, basically a bully, is oppressive of both of these women. Aster matches him in cruelty, taking out his oppression of her on others, including Hirut, whom she marks with scars from a lashing (which seems to have been a favored punishment among leaders of that day). Their life is hard, and their “family” dysfunctional, even though Kidane is relatively well-to-do. Things change when the threat of war becomes imminent.The martial fervor that erupts upon the approaching invasion of the Italians, brings out a high patriotism in both Kidane and Aster. Aster, especially, assumes a near mythic persona with her intention to lead the women of Ethiopia against the invaders. She starts wearing Kidane’s clothing as a uniform, including a military cape of Kidane’s father. She inspires the women around her but is opposed by Kidane, who resents her breaking the bounds of a woman’s place.Kidane proves to be an effective military leader, earning the loyalty of his men. A large number of women also follow him. Their role is to support the men, but many desire to be warriors themselves, including Hirut. The rest of the story plays out from this scenario. When I began reading The Shadow King, I was immediately struck by the lack of quotation marks around the dialogue, within prose written in third-person present tense. For example:Well, you must know, don’t you? Kidane says without turning to Aklilu. You must have read this, I’m sure.The effect was a bit jarring at first, but I quickly got used to it. At some points, I had to study a bit to discover what was dialogue and who was saying it, but overall, it wasn’t a problem. I’m still uncertain as to whether this style adds anything to the narrative. It surely shortens the number of pages, since quoted dialogue, especially when it begins new paragraphs, adds to the page count. As it is, this book is 448, 6x9” pages. More noteworthy, is Ms. Mengiste’s stylistic approach. She is evidently well-read in Western Civilization’s literary classics because classical images and themes pervade The Shadow King. It seems the story’s war theme shares much with Shakespeare’s Henry V, regarding how wars are viewed differently by the elite who pursue them, the men and women who fight them, and the innocent who are victimized by them. Most interestingly, Ms. Mengiste used the literary device of the Chorus. Seen famously in classical Greek tragedies (e.g., Oedipus Rex), it is also used in Henry V. This is where one or more characters (referred to as “the chorus”) periodically “come on stage” and offer commentary about the story. This technique could be disastrous in contemporary storytelling because it takes the reader out of the story, but Ms. Mengiste handles it very well. She fits it snugly into her narrative where it enhances the story’s epic, mythic overtones. It does bring the reader out of the story for a space, but I think the intention of this book includes a “documentary” aspect, as well as storytelling. This makes the chorus, and the other literary devices noted below, work.Among the book’s chapters (which are not numbered, possibly because my copy of the book is an Advanced Reading Copy) are sections simply entitled, Interlude. These are mostly the story-line of the Ethiopian emperor, Haile Selassie. They are inserted at strategic points in the narrative, interjecting a bit of reality balance (Haile Selassie is an actual, historic figure) to the fiction. Even so, that thread is a close point-of-view for the emperor, showing his despair in the face of the Italian onslaught and his escape into the opera, Aida. I was struck at this picture of the overwhelmed emperor as being reminiscent of peoples’ present escapes into movies and video games in the face of an increasingly incomprehensible world.Small chapters labeled, photo, are also interspersed throughout the text. These are descriptions of photographs implicitly made during the story’s timeframe—as if they are pictures taken of the story’s action at the point of the telling. This is an emphasizing device since a main Italian character, Ettore, is a photographer as well as a soldier. There is no supposition that Ettore took these photos, but it does follow from the fact that this was a well-photographed war.Finally, regarding style, Ms. Mengiste’s narrative is not completely linear. She does a little time-hopping with some of it coming from a character’s stream-of-consciousness. It is, however, infrequent and not overdone, as it is in so much of current fiction. I thought the time-shifts fell naturally into the narrative and were not a cheap tension-builder to cover lazy writing. Let me emphasize the latter because Ms. Mengiste is obviously skilled in her craft far beyond cheating with such techniques.The Shadow King is rich in themes. “War being run by bullies” is a big one. Rape is used as a metaphor for this and so is depicted several times. That depiction is not pornographic, however. The scenes are brutal and heart-wrenching, but well-written and they make their points.Another theme is how war gives meaning to life for so many people. Ms. Mengiste weaves this theme into her characters’ searches for life meanings as they strive to overcome their personal demons. From here spawns tropes of “No way out but through,” and “loss as extinction,” where what is gone (whether things or people) is as if it never was. Many readers will appreciate the “empowering women" theme. Apparently, women played a large role in the Ethiopian army during this war, and so we see the pride taken by the two main female protagonists in becoming warriors. That empowerment is mitigated, however, by the ultimately dubious value of a warrior’s life at war. This leads to considerations of where our life meanings really come from. This is emphasized, I believe, in Ms. Mengiste’s broader definition of what “the shadow king” really is and in the translated name of the character, Minim, who impersonates the emperor.There is so much to ruminate over in this book, and I've only hit the high-points in this long review. I give it an enthusiastic five stars and recommend it to anyone who enjoys thoughtfulness and deep themes in their historical-fiction reading. Certainly, The Shadow King has taken its place on my list of favorite books.
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  • Ann Marie (Lit·Wit·Wine·Dine)
    January 1, 1970
    I'm putting this one down for now. It's beautifully written but I've read about 25% and it's not moving fast enough for me. I don't find myself looking forward to picking it up each time I try. It's time for me to move on. I may go back to it at some point and would not discourage others from giving it a go.
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  • Hulananni
    January 1, 1970
    420+ pages of what is essentially the history of Ethiopia and its wars. The characters were not compelling except for Ettore aka Foto. He was a conflicted young man in a war not of his choosing. I almost gave up after the first 200 pages but try not to drop a book because it may be 'difficult'....in this case because of my scant knowledge of Ethiopian history. Much of the story seemed to me to be part of a fantasy novel....particularly the ending.
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  • Jade
    January 1, 1970
    I was so excited when I saw that Maaza Mengiste’s new novel was coming out this year! After devouring Beneath The Lion’s Gaze last year, and falling in love with the beautiful writing, I was really excited to jump into The Shadow King. And The Shadow King broke my heart just as much as Beneath The Lion’s Gaze did… If not more. Maaza Mengiste is both poet and storyteller, and in my opinion her words should be read by all. The historical fiction market is literally saturated with the same overdone I was so excited when I saw that Maaza Mengiste’s new novel was coming out this year! After devouring Beneath The Lion’s Gaze last year, and falling in love with the beautiful writing, I was really excited to jump into The Shadow King. And The Shadow King broke my heart just as much as Beneath The Lion’s Gaze did… If not more. Maaza Mengiste is both poet and storyteller, and in my opinion her words should be read by all. The historical fiction market is literally saturated with the same overdone WW2 stories when there are so many stories from that era that have yet to be told – The Shadow King is one of them. Set in the mid 1935’s in Ethiopia, The Shadow King is the story of Mussolini’s army’s advance into Ethiopia with the aim to stamp out the image of their previous failure and colonize the country. Told through the eyes of Kidane, an officer in Emperor Haile Selassi’s army, his wife Aster who rises above all of the disappointments and pain in her life to lead a group of women into war, and Hirut, their servant, who rises above both of them as a guerilla, free and then captured again. It is also the story of terrible cruelties (on both sides), but also the immense power of women. I fell in love with Hirut, and I think she will remain one of my favorite fictional characters forever (right up there with Jacqueline from Marge Piercy’s Gone To Soldiers). The Shadow King has so many layers, and jumps between voices and times, but in a manner that is fluid, and not confusing for the reader. I loved how the author uses memories based on photographs to tell parts of the story that cannot be told from Kidane, Aster, or Hirut’s perspective. It rounds out the narrative perfectly, and allows the reader to have a larger perspective on the war, the country, and the emperor, and the time. I wasn’t expecting to burn through this novel rapidly, as Maaza Mengiste’s writing demands one absorb her words, and sit awhile in her imagery, so I was perfectly happy to take my time with this one. I would have happily spent another 400 pages swimming through her words, spending time in Hirut’s presence and learning more about a country I have never visited, and that I still know too little about. Is it too much to ask when the next book will be available? (I’m just kidding, but not really. Thank you Maaza Mengiste for your incredible work!).Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the advance copy in return for my honest review.
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  • Cheryl
    January 1, 1970
    Not for me, I don't think, but if I ever need HF for a challenge....Also, I bet many of you, my friends, would be interested.
  • Stacie C
    January 1, 1970
    To put this simply, The Shadow King, is a really well written book that explores the history of the war that took place between Ethiopia and Italy in the 1930s. It tells the story of the women who fought the war, the challenges they faced, the struggle of the Ethiopian people during that time and the Italian colonel who forced innocent people off a cliff. The story begins at the end with Hirut in the 1970s waiting to meet Ettore. She has something that belongs to him and he has been looking for To put this simply, The Shadow King, is a really well written book that explores the history of the war that took place between Ethiopia and Italy in the 1930s. It tells the story of the women who fought the war, the challenges they faced, the struggle of the Ethiopian people during that time and the Italian colonel who forced innocent people off a cliff. The story begins at the end with Hirut in the 1970s waiting to meet Ettore. She has something that belongs to him and he has been looking for her for decades. But how they got to this meeting, begins when the war does with Hirut, a young woman with her father’s rifle and Ettore, an Italian Jew photographing both the living and dead as he served in the army.One of the parts of this book that really sticks with me is the imagery. Mengiste writes the most beautiful, heartbreaking, descriptive imagery and her prose lends itself to building these images in a really amazing way. Certain phrases simply linger in your mind while you envision what’s happening. That’s what really pulled me into this story. The world building was just incredible. The opposing narratives was also something I really found fascinating. Hirut and Ettore’s narrative were so intrinsically different but the thread of war bound them together. But war is brutal and at moments so is this book as Mengiste creates a realistic atmosphere for what war in the 1930s would consist of.I will say that it did take me a little while to get use to how Mengiste chose to write this book. The page looks monotonous and I didn’t realize how much I rely on just basic quotations to denounce speech. In this book there are moments when you aren’t sure when the conversation is happening but you gain a better awareness for her style overtime. I really enjoyed this book. It was an informative and interesting story with well written characters. Unaware of this section of history, I definitely learned quite a bit and would love to learn more. Definitely recommending this novel. I’m very interested in what Mengiste has to offer moving forward. I give this book 4.5 out of 5 stars.Thank you Netgalley for this book in exchange for an honest review.
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  • Anne
    January 1, 1970
    I found this book to be almost like a meditation or a dream, regardless of the deaths, the killing, the war. Although I knew about this war I didn't know anything about it. Now I know it to be a war where women were warriors as well....and, like so much of life, their stories were blotted out by the stories of men. How much is forgotten or forgiven after the brutality of such a war?
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  • Christina Farr-Thompson
    January 1, 1970
    oh my gosh! Amazing book! Read it!
  • Namrata
    January 1, 1970
    This extraordinary novel sounds like it's going to be the next bestseller. It has so much meaning to it it's indescribable. I seriously need this book in my life.
  • Laura
    January 1, 1970
    I went to high school with a member of the Selassie family and my uncle worked in Addis Ababa for a few years, so Ethiopian history has always been of interest to me. Beneath the Lion's Gaze was a look at the end of the reign of Haile Selassie and the start of the Derg's rule. This book has a younger Selassie dealing with the second war with Italy and follows an imagined general, the general's wife and several slaves as well as an Italian general and photographer. The life of the women is highli I went to high school with a member of the Selassie family and my uncle worked in Addis Ababa for a few years, so Ethiopian history has always been of interest to me. Beneath the Lion's Gaze was a look at the end of the reign of Haile Selassie and the start of the Derg's rule. This book has a younger Selassie dealing with the second war with Italy and follows an imagined general, the general's wife and several slaves as well as an Italian general and photographer. The life of the women is highlighted, along with the cruelty and class issues in Ethiopian society; there is also that is disturbing about the Italian invasion and treatment of prisoners. As with her earlier book, this is difficult to read but the illumination of an era and events that many Americans are not aware of makes this a should read. For me, this was a better book than the first - no sophomore slump! - and a must read.ARC provided by publisher.
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  • Beth
    January 1, 1970
    I wish I could say that I loved this book because the subject matter is something we should be aware of, but I didn't love it. Maaza Mengiste's writing is full of detail and poetic descriptions, however the descriptions were often so violent and horrific that it was hard to keep reading. I had almost no awareness of the Ethiopian vs Italian part of WWII and I'm glad I read the book since it gave me new information. I wish that she had been a bit more straightforward with the plot - jumping from I wish I could say that I loved this book because the subject matter is something we should be aware of, but I didn't love it. Maaza Mengiste's writing is full of detail and poetic descriptions, however the descriptions were often so violent and horrific that it was hard to keep reading. I had almost no awareness of the Ethiopian vs Italian part of WWII and I'm glad I read the book since it gave me new information. I wish that she had been a bit more straightforward with the plot - jumping from character to character with little connection made for complicated reading. I hope when the final version comes out that they opt to use quotation marks to delineate speakers as that would help clear up some of the complexity. It could be a good book group discussion book, if the group can tackle long and difficult subjects. (Read an ARC version).
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  • Daryl
    January 1, 1970
    Won a copy of this from Goodreads First Reads program. Although I can't really say I disliked this book, I had a really hard time getting into it. Part of it is the language, which is complex. I'd like to include some examples of my point, but as this is an ARC, that's not really allowed. One of the biggest issues I had was the author's decision not to use quotation marks when characters speak. This causes me as a reader to slow down as I tried to figure out whether someone was speaking or wheth Won a copy of this from Goodreads First Reads program. Although I can't really say I disliked this book, I had a really hard time getting into it. Part of it is the language, which is complex. I'd like to include some examples of my point, but as this is an ARC, that's not really allowed. One of the biggest issues I had was the author's decision not to use quotation marks when characters speak. This causes me as a reader to slow down as I tried to figure out whether someone was speaking or whether the omniscient narrator was telling part of the story. And there are paragraphs where we have dialogue, narration, dialogue, narration switching back and forth sentence by sentence. Punctuation would have helped. I also didn't get a very good sense of most of the characters. Beyond the 4 or 5 major characters, I could seldom remember who minor characters were when they appeared (or re-appeared) and what their relationships were (I remember at one point - late in the book - thinking, oh, that character is married to that other character?). Oddly enough - and I don't know if this reflects my cultural viewpoint or the author's writing - two of the characters that were the clearest to me were two of the Italian army officers who were at war with the Ethiopians. The Italian photographer, Ettore, seems especially to have the best story arc in the novel. I like to expand the diversity of my reading, but this one just didn't resonate with me.
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  • Annie
    January 1, 1970
    In 1974, Hirut is a middle-aged woman shading into elderly. No one looking at her on the bus she is riding at the beginning of The Shadow King, the extraordinary novel by Maaza Mengiste, would know that she was a warrior who fought in her country’s most terrible war. The metal box full of photographs on her lap, however, is full of evidence of Hirut’s struggles and heroism. She is on a last mission to take these images back to the Italian photographer who took them and can’t resist a last look.. In 1974, Hirut is a middle-aged woman shading into elderly. No one looking at her on the bus she is riding at the beginning of The Shadow King, the extraordinary novel by Maaza Mengiste, would know that she was a warrior who fought in her country’s most terrible war. The metal box full of photographs on her lap, however, is full of evidence of Hirut’s struggles and heroism. She is on a last mission to take these images back to the Italian photographer who took them and can’t resist a last look...Read the rest of my review at A Bookish Type. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss, for review consideration.
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  • Kim McGee
    January 1, 1970
    The battlefield is a common story of sacrifice, horror, and loss and is usually one that is limited to men. This story is different in that the characters who affect the most change, strength and compassion are women. Hirut is an orphan whose only possession is a gun given to her by her father. She goes from working in a household as a servant to the battlefields and becomes very involved in her country's fight for freedom against Italy. Hers is a journey of sacrifice, pain, and courage. The aut The battlefield is a common story of sacrifice, horror, and loss and is usually one that is limited to men. This story is different in that the characters who affect the most change, strength and compassion are women. Hirut is an orphan whose only possession is a gun given to her by her father. She goes from working in a household as a servant to the battlefields and becomes very involved in her country's fight for freedom against Italy. Hers is a journey of sacrifice, pain, and courage. The author's colorful language paints a vivid picture both on the battlefield and in small gestures of kindness even in a violent setting. My thanks to the publisher for the advance copy.
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  • Melanie
    January 1, 1970
    This was an okay book. I received an advance reading copy of this book through an online book group. I’m glad I had some general knowledge of the historical side of the story since the author dives in with the subject of Ethiopia’s efforts to hold off Mussolini’s Italian invasion as if the reader is aware of the conflict. The writing style is poetic and lyrical in form and this was an impediment to me because I couldn’t fully grasp the historical narrative. After having read the book, I feel as This was an okay book. I received an advance reading copy of this book through an online book group. I’m glad I had some general knowledge of the historical side of the story since the author dives in with the subject of Ethiopia’s efforts to hold off Mussolini’s Italian invasion as if the reader is aware of the conflict. The writing style is poetic and lyrical in form and this was an impediment to me because I couldn’t fully grasp the historical narrative. After having read the book, I feel as if I have missed some central point of the story beyond the obvious that war is hell.
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  • Brian Wraight
    January 1, 1970
    DNF. I tried, I really did, but after 134 pages I had to throw in the towel. The Shadow King is overwrought, bloated with strained metaphors, and packed with way too many characters, which is too bad because the premise is great and the true story that inspired it is one that begs to be told.
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  • Harisa Henderson
    January 1, 1970
    Ive been reading SUCH depressing books and this one isn’t any different. The writing in this one is unfortunately not consistently strong so closer to a 3.5 but when it’s good it’s great.Also learned a lot of new things. Ethiopia book around the world
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  • Diane
    January 1, 1970
    Amazing writing, lyrical, story powerful and illuminating
  • Patricia Linville
    January 1, 1970
    Shadow King by Maaza MengisteA Google search of Ethiopian women warriors turns up the little-known history of many strong African queens and women warriors throughout time. Mengiste states “The story of war has always been a masculine story, but this was not true for Ethiopia and it has never been that way in any form of struggle…” The Shadow King is a her fictionalized account of these female leaders in Ethiopia’s fight against two Italian invasions and ultimate occupation of their homeland. In Shadow King by Maaza MengisteA Google search of Ethiopian women warriors turns up the little-known history of many strong African queens and women warriors throughout time. Mengiste states “The story of war has always been a masculine story, but this was not true for Ethiopia and it has never been that way in any form of struggle…” The Shadow King is a her fictionalized account of these female leaders in Ethiopia’s fight against two Italian invasions and ultimate occupation of their homeland. In 1896, “Ethiopia's military victory over Italy secured it the distinction of being the only African nation to resist European colonialism with a decisive show of force.” To avoid a second defeat, in 1935 El Duce sent tanks, planes and mustard gas. The bloody invasion is considered the first real conflict of World War II. During both fights Ethiopian women were integral in both fighting and support roles.War is a grizzly topic at best. The Shadow King is no exception. There are many dirty deeds perpetrated over the weak and innocent by the strong and powerful, received and given by both genders. Forced weddings, prisoners tortured, female spies, coercion and deception of the whole kingdom are just a few of the scenarios wrapped into story. Mengiste’s characters are undeniably human as even the evilest among them have moments of lucidity when they question their motives, actions and consequences making them and the story they tell unforgettable. Mengiste has given us a more earthy and unrestrained view of the history of women in combat than any Google search can. Worth reading.
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