Author(s): Maaza Mengiste
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 mobilise his strongest men before the Italians invade. Meanwhile, Mussolini's hundreds of thousands of Italian soldiers march on Ethiopia expecting an easy victory. 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. 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, 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.
Shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2020
The Shadow King is a beautiful and devastating work; of women holding together a world ripping itself apart. They will slip into your dreams and overtake your memories -- MARLON JAMES Unforgettable. I suspect I won't read anything more moving this year * * The Times, Book of the Month * * Lyrical, remarkable . . . Breathtakingly skillful . . . The reader feels . . . In the steady hands of a master . . . Hirut [is] as indelible and compelling a hero as any I've read in years * * New York Times * * With epic sweep and dignity, Mengiste has lifted this struggle into legend, along with the women who fought in it. Beautiful, horrifying, elegant and haunted, The Shadow King is a modern classic -- ANDREW SEAN GREER, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of LESS The Shadow King is incredible. I've read nothing like it before. There is war, love, betrayal, history and the present day wrapped in the hearts and minds of complex characters. Maaza Mengiste rises as Toni Morrison rests. The baton has been passed and taken deftly -- LEMN SISSAY Set during Italy's 1935 invasion of Ethiopia, this absorbing novel spotlights the African women who went to war . . . [Mengiste's] achievement in The Shadow King is to bring to life those women, and to depict them as dynamic entities, their capabilities, limitations and beliefs evolving under duress in as fully complex a way as those of their male counterparts * * Guardian, Book of the Day * * A brilliant novel, lyrically lifting history towards myth. It's also compulsively readable. I devoured it in two days -- SALMAN RUSHDIE Urgent and propulsive but also lyrical and meditative . . . An inspiring, harrowing portrait of an overlooked aspect of an overlooked conflict * * Metro * * Wonderful . . . The novel is an intimate portrait of human beings going about their daily lives with tensions and hardships, memories and love, which broadens out into an epic war narrative . . . The Shadow King is ambitious but effortless to read. For all the harrowing scenes, it feels hopeful and lyrical * * i * * The new Toni Morrison? Maaza Mengiste certainly seems worthy of the comparison . . . Epic in scale, intimate in detail; this is one story that's sure to stay with you * * Sunday Telegraph * *
Maaza Mengiste was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. A Fulbright Scholar and professor in the MFA in Creative Writing & Literary Translation program at Queens College, she is the author of The Shadow King and Beneath the Lion's Gaze, named one of the Guardian's Ten Best Contemporary African Books. Her work can be found in the New Yorker, Granta, and the New York Times, among other publications. She lives in New York City.