One of the only African nations to never have been colonized (the five year occupation by Italy is generally not categorized as colonization), one of its darkest periods came during the 13-year socialist-Lenninist-Marxist rule of the Derg. This military junta overthrew an increasingly oblivious Haile Selassie (ending a succession of “solomonic rule” dating back to the 1200s) and set about consolidating power (aka the “Red Terror”) under the leadership of despot Mengistu Mariam. Beneath the Lion’s Gaze is a retelling of this time period through the eyes of one Ethiopian family.
The family’s patriarch is a renowned doctor named Hailu who is ordered to keep the victim of a barely-alive Derg torture victim alive--ostensibly so that she can be tortured further. As he struggles with this dilemma, his son Dawit becomes a freedom fighter who becomes known as “Mekonnen Killer of Soldiers.” Author Maaza Mengiste uses the arc of this one family’s struggles to bring to life the experience of Ethiopians who starved under Selassie, only to be persecuted and killed under the Derg and starved again under its leader Mengistu’s reign.
While Mengistu was eventually toppled, like all civil war tales, no one is left unscathed in Beneath the Lion’s Gaze. All resistance, no matter how passive--or how righteous, bears a cost. Hailu in particular at the story’s conclusion, is broken so thoroughly by torture that he carries the “appearance of a man dragging death with him through life.” And it is this notion of the inseparable presence of death within everyday life that Mengiste best captures the reality for generations of Ethiopians.
*One of my Reading Around the Continent books--the full list is here.
See our 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015 and 2014 Reading Lists.
You must read Maaza Mengiste's masterful novel on the resistance to the Italian invasion: "The Shadow King"--my review is here.
"Prevail" is a comprehensive history of Ethiopia's fight against Italy, my review of it is here.
- “The nature of love is to kill for it, or to die.”
- “Hope can never come from doing nothing.”
- “Those who are dead aren’t worth dying for.”
- “Who’s left to rule if everyone’s in jail."
NPR: In Ethiopia, A Monarch Falls In 'The Lion's Gaze'
3:09 Traditional Ethiopian dance description: “The heart follows the body.”
07.24 Obelisk statue with lion commemorating . Also describes 12 martyrs square--victims of Italian massacres
09:24 Tradition where women have a cross carved into skin
12:16 Famine used by Derg as a justification for many actions.
“Hope can never come from doing nothing.”
09:50 Wine cellar at the palace used as a prison.
“Who’s left to rule if everyone’s in jail.”
04:23 8-sided church in Addis
08:54 scene of Emperor being smothered to death
07:50 monument obelisk by hospital memorial to one man’s growing rage toward his people. Russian role described as a group that came to Ethiopia to help destroy it.
01:55 “A missing beat can fell a man.” in discussion on the role of the heart
03:35 “Those who are dead aren’t worth dying for.”
09:23-09:40 Revolutionary Lion Resistance. Anbessa (Lion)
15:44 Makonnen collects the bodies and guides them to angels, avenger of the weak...legend grows
15:58 killer of soldiers
01:17 in order for families to claim the bodies of their loved ones, they would have to pay the “bullet fee” --125 birr to pay for the cost of the bullet used to kill them
05:28 “Hailu had the appearance of a man dragging death with him through life.”