Beneath the Lion's Gaze: A Novel
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.
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(reviewed by Irene Yeates for www.AuthorExposure.com)
"Beneath the Lion’s Gaze" reminds us that only those willing to be fearless in their quest for knowledge of our world’s history will recognize what an indomitable spirit we demonstrate as inhabitants of a global community. With an unwavering hand, Maaza Mengiste pens an extraordinarily gripping debut narrative set during the overwhelming chaos throughout the course of Ethiopia’s transformation from ancient dynastic monarchy to a barbaric military dictatorship.
In 1974, despite Emperor Haile Selassie’s exalted military status and humanitarian reign, the Rastafarian-spirited winds of the “Horn of Africa” quietly whisper that the hour has come to depose their “King of Kings.” Selassie’s renowned leonine strength, weakened by age, has stealthily diminished and inflicted its inevitable miseries upon his mind and body. Flickering triumphant memories become his daily reality as he wanders around his palatial surroundings in Addis Ababa. Incognizant or reluctant to address the current famine’s devastation, he silently ignores the increasing rumble of discontent and unremitting complaints among his subjects.
Meanwhile, rebellious university students take to the streets, clashing with intractable soldiers secretly influenced by the sadistic military leader General Guddu, as other high-ranking officers subtly infiltrate the Emperor’s militia to swiftly depose the reigning monarch. A carefully planned coup d’état as a Marxist/Socialist Derg, which promised positive change, initiates a reign of terror that effectively dominates and decimates a nation through atrocious torture, imprisonment of innocents (Helassie and members of his family, men, women, and children), assassinations, and executions.
Neither palpable acrimony nor unreasonable judgment corrupts Mengiste’s scrupulous research. Her brilliant vessel to craft this unrelenting, often painful, yet effusive tale of her heritage centers on an ordinary family caught between the crossfire as a brutal military junta escalates to a civil war spanning almost two decades.
Grief-stricken, Hailu, the brilliant Addis Ababa doctor and patriarch, stubbornly refuses to keep his promise to peacefully release his beloved wife, Selam, from her inevitable agonizing death. Yonas, his eldest son, mirrors his father’s characteristics, while Dawit, his youngest son, favors his mother’s traits. While Yonas, a university professor, is committed to protecting his wife and daughter within the family’s home, Dawit, a university student, is committed to overthrowing Selassie. However, Dawit recoils in horror when he views the Derg’s atrocities toward the Ethiopian people. Disillusioned, he vehemently unites with the guerrilla forces, is branded a traitorous enemy, and cannot safely return home.
When a tortured, brutalized young woman near death is transported by soldiers personally to Hailu in the hospital, he receives the direct command given by the Derg “Colonel” to not only fully restore her to health, but also to return her to him. Fearful for her future sanity and safety, Hailu mercifully grants her the peaceful, compassionate death his wounded heart failed to offer Selam. Subsequently, he is ordered to report to the newly constructed concrete prison where countless countrymen enter, but never exit.
“…I have no need for bones and cartilage, blood and breath. I can forget…I know now that time sinks to the bottom of the sea and rises again in curves. My reflection is only an illusion, only flesh and water manifest in a drop of moonlight that shudders at what it sees on this dead land I once called home…” (Page 207)
As I attempt to envision myself as an inhabitant of a global community, reading "Beneath the Lion’s Gaze" was a richly rewarding experience. Historical fiction often transports one to a definitive period in a country’s history, and my journey deeply affected me. Maaza Mengiste’s debut is an unforgettable tribute to the enormous strength