The Lion's Gaze--Preliminary Notes

As I may have intimated in previous posts, Beneath the Lion's Gaze is emotionally difficult fare--how could any book set in Ethiopia during the famine not be? It is made more so by the author's deft hand with detail.  Rather than say more myself, it seems wise to let the author speak:

from Beneath the Lion's Gaze
Maaza Mengiste

Now, in front of him was a small child with a head bigger than the rest of his body, crouched in a posture of fatigue that only dying old men should know. His bony skull rested on frail wrists, and he stared into the distance blankly, his sagging mouth host to flies and holes where once teeth grew.

It is a perfect word-picture of an image many of us have seen.  It adds to that picture the gritty details of the specter of death that hovers around it.  Add to that this dulled and jaded reaction:

"What about this boy?" Mickey said, pointing to the child, "Shouldn't we take him somewhere?"
"His mother left him there to look for food.  There's nothing here." He spread his hand as if the landscape were an empty table, the gestured again towards a small tent where a tired nurse leaned against the the wooden post and watch them with flat eyes. "And with all this, there's a cholera outbreak." he walked on without a glance at the child.

"The emperor came here to visit last year. he must have seen this. Isn't he helping?" Mickey had to quicken his pace to keep up.

"It's not enough." The clerk shook his head. "And it's come too late. When you are convinced that everything that happens is the will of God, what is there to do but wait until God's mercy?

For a taste, this is sufficient.  The atmosphere is melancholy, heavy, and labored but the language is not.  What is amazing is the sympathy that Mengiste can still evoke for the Emperor whose negligence was at least in part (and possibly in large part) responsible for the horrendous human disaster that was the Ethiopian famine.  Ah, but we have the Derg to come and save the day--and that is what the book will recount for us--the frying pan and the fire.


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