The Shadow King

A novel by Maaza Mengiste.

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 mobilize his strongest men before the Italians invade. His initial kindness to Hirut shifts into a flinty cruelty when she resists his advances, and Hirut finds herself tumbling into a new world of thefts and violations, of betrayals and overwhelming rage. Meanwhile, Mussolini's technologically advanced army prepares for an easy victory. Hundreds of thousands of Italians  Jewish photographer Ettore among them — march on Ethiopia seeking adventure.

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 against the Italians. But how could she have predicted her own personal war as a prisoner of one of Italy's most vicious officers, who will force her to pose before Ettore's camera?

What follows is an 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. (From W. W. Norton)

More about The Shadow King

The Next Chapter columnist Donna Bailey Nurse reveals the Canadian companion to Maaza Mengiste's bestselling novel The Shadow King.

Interviews with Maaza Mengiste

To understand the conflict between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the Tigray People's Liberation Front in Ethiopia today, we have to go back decades — to the 1974 revolution, and the birth of the TPLF in 1975. Acclaimed novelist Maaza Mengiste, whose family fled Ethiopia after the revolution, speaks with Piya Chattopadhyay about what it means to see Ethiopia once again embroiled in war, and what it will take for the country to reckon with its complicated history. Plus, constitutional lawyer Adem Abebe traces the links between the 1970s and today.
In her lecture for the Global Centre for Pluralism, writer and Booker Prize nominee Maaza Mengiste turns to photographs from the war between Ethiopia and Italy in the 1930s to explore how historical narratives are constructed, what they overlook, and the murky realities in between. *This episode originally aired on May 20, 2021.
In her new novel, The Shadow King, the Ethiopian-American author draws on surprising discoveries about the role of women during Italy's 1935 invasion of Ethiopia.

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