Beneath the Lion’s Gaze by Maaza Mengiste is a powerful and heart-wrenching debut set during the Ethiopian Revolution of 1974, the demise of Emperor Haile Selessie, and the terrifying military regime that followed.
Alternating between multiple perspectives, this book chronicles the struggles and sacrifices of one family through a diverse and intricate cast of characters and voices.
There is Hailu, a distinguished surgeon at the hospital in Addis Ababa, struggling with his beloved wife’s declining health, the friction between his younger son, Dawit and himself, and his duty as a doctor in a country whose government is brutally torturing and killing its citizens.
When Derg soldiers bring in a severely tortured prisoner and order Hailu to heal the victim so they can torture them some more, Hailu struggles with his conscience and ultimately makes a decision that will put his life in jeopardy.
Meanwhile, his sons Yonas and Dawit are reacting in different ways. Yonas, the older son, is married with a young daughter, and prefers to remain silent and invisible to protect his family, while Dawit gets involved with the underground resistance movement fighting the regime and risking his life. Yonas’s wife, Sara, will also struggle with her convictions as well as her role as a mother and the responsibility she feels for her daughter’s fragile health. And then there is Mickey, whom Hailu has been a father-figure to, and who is enlisted in the Derg.
With raw, evocative prose, Beneath the Lion’s Gaze portrays history as it was and illuminates the voices of the people of Ethiopia.
TW: There is strong violence in this book and graphic descriptions of torture.
Maaza Mengiste is also the author of the recently published and Booker Prize long list title: The Shadow King, which tells Ethiopia’s history during the Italian Occupation of 1935-1941.
Part of this review is also posted on my Bookstagram.
*Book links are to Goodreads*