Thursday, March 4, 2010

Beneath the Lion's *Review* Gaze by Maaza Mengiste

This memorable, heartbreaking story opens in Addis Adaba, 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 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 not been explored in fiction before. It is a story about the lengths human beings will go in pursuit of freedom and the human price of a national revolution.
I have never read a book set in Ethiopia before or a book by an Ethipioan author. I was first struck by how easy it was to read. It felt, initially, very "American". There have been times when I have read books by a foreign author that were hard for me to read due to the different language or culture used. Sometimes they just don't flow like what I'm used to.
The book started out with a family already going through hardship. Hailu's wife Selam, Dawit and Yonas' mother is dying. She was the glue holding the family together. She was their constant and they loved her deeply. She dies right before the revolution begins, and the family dynamic changes. Their father is jailed for his role in the death of a student who was tortured extensively and in so much pain she didn't care if she lived anymore. Dawit is angry at his brother Yonas for letting his father turn himself in to to authorities instead of insisting his father fight for his freedom. Dawit holds so much anger in his heart. His mother is gone, his father now too and his brother should have acted like more of a man. One of the ways he chooses to release this anger is by joining a group of revolutionaries.
When reading books dealing with war, revolutions, differing types of government; I always feel so blessed to live where I do. I can't imagine having to go through the pain of children being recruited to be soldiers- most of them never coming home alive. When a child goes missing the parents can't even turn to the police to help because of the corruption within the force.
While I would rate this book a so-so read, it did open my eyes up to a new country I had not "traveled" to before and the trials of the revolution in 1974. And because I did enjoy the author's writing style, I would definitely read something by her again.
I have read so many dark and depressing books lately that my next book has to be lighter and fluffier. I need a little bit of laughter next.