Maaza Mengiste is a novelist and essayist from Ethiopia. Her Booker-Prize nominated work The Shadow King tells the harrowing story of Italy’s brutal invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 and a young orphan girl, Hirut, who flourishes into a soldier and urges other women to take up arms against Mussolini’s army.
The book has been widely celebrated and challenges traditional tropes of women as victims in conflict. Much of the story is inspired by Mengiste’s personal history. In her afterword, she describes Ethiopian soldiers as “stoic and regal like my grandfather”. She later learned the remarkable tale of how her great-grandmother had sued her father for his gun so she could enlist as a soldier.
“When we speak of war, we tend to speak of men and that shapes what gets remembered and also, what ultimately gets forgotten. I hope that more of these stories come to light from Ethiopia, but also from around the world, because I know they exist,” she said in an interview with Shelf Awareness.
On this episode of The Stream, we’ll talk about representation in the literary world, women in war and how Black and African writers are working to reclaim historical narratives.
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