If you liked The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste, you'll love Daughters of Silence by Rebecca Fisseha
This interview originally aired on Sept. 19, 2020.
The Shadow King by Ethiopian American author Maaza Mengiste is a novel that explores the role of women during Italy's 1935 invasion of Ethiopia — a conflict that many consider to be the start of the Second World War. The Shadow King was on the 2020 Booker Prize shortlist.
The Next Chapter columnist Donna Bailey Nurse has read The Shadow King and says if you enjoyed that novel you should check out the Canadian novel Daughters of Silence by Rebecca Fisseha, an Ethiopian Canadian author named a writer to watch by CBC Books.
"The book opens before Italy's invasion of Ethiopia in 1935, and it tells a story of a group of women who joined a military unit, and they were eventually fighting alongside the men. Their main character is an adolescent girl, she's an orphan.
"Her name is Hirut and she becomes a servant in the house of a company commander. Hirut's prized possession is the old rifle her father gave her before he died. And in becoming a soldier, she feels as though she is stepping into her destiny.
The novel talks to different kinds of warfare: class warfare, the warfare between the sexes, and the major battle between these battles between the Italians and Ethiopians.
"It is very fascinating that the women actually took arms and it's because they wanted to. But it's not like they were thinking about the home front and the battlefield. The women don't necessarily seem tremendously transformed. They see themselves as patriots. This is something that's really interesting in the novel.
"There's many forms of warfare that she discusses, including sexual violence against women. Rape is a major theme in the book, both as a weapon of war and within the culture at that time.
"The novel talks to different kinds of warfare: class warfare, the warfare between the sexes, and the major battle between these battles between the Italians and Ethiopians."
"The author was born in Ethiopia and she lives in Toronto. This book is smaller in scope than The Shadow King, but it explores similar ideas. The main character is the 20-something Dessie, who lives in Toronto. And when we meet her, she is grieving the recent death of her mother. To make matters worse, the crisis has forced her back in contact with the adopted brother who sexually abused her. It was her mother's dying wish that Dessie forgive him.
Both these books also feature Black women characters that I think we in the West would describe as being unconventional.
"She is a stewardess for a Canadian airline. When her plane is grounded in Addis Ababa, that's where she was born, she goes to stay with her grandfather, who is also grieving her mother's death. While she's there with her grandfather, she uncovers secrets about her mother's past.
"Sexual violence and war are major themes, as they are in The Shadow King. Both these books also feature Black women characters that I think we in the West would describe as being unconventional. For example, Hirut may be a slave, but she's also a soldier — and Dessie's mother was an Ethiopian diplomat and ambassador to Canada. I was excited to see different Black cultures giving us different Black characters than we're expecting."
Donna Bailey Nurse's comments have been edited for length and clarity.