Living history

Mazaa moved to New York from Ethiopia when she was four (photo: Selamta Magazine)

Novelist Maaza Mengiste talks about turning Ethiopia’s past into bestselling fiction, and why, even while living in the US, Addis is still home .

By Lisa Francesca Nand

Maaza Mengiste’s The Shadow King, though a work of fiction, tells the true story of the crucial role played by Ethiopian women in resisting Italian invaders in the 1930s. Published to rave reviews in the US, it continues to garner praise: the UK’s Times newspaper listed it as its book of the month for January. This builds on the success of her award-winning first novel, Beneath the Lion’s Gaze, which was set in 1974, a turbulent time in Ethiopian history. We meet Mengiste amid the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves at Brooklyn’s Center for Fiction, one of her top recommendations for visitors to New York. Here, she tells us why Addis Ababa is still home.

You were born in Ethiopia and left when you were four. What do you remember about that period?
Well, the country was going through a difficult change at the time, and my parents were really worried about my little brother and me, and how we might be affected. There are frightening memories which eventually went into my first novel. At the same time, Ethiopia was where I had my happiest childhood moments. But we had to leave. My father worked for Ethiopian Airlines and requested a transfer to Nigeria.

So it seems you have a personal connection to Ethiopian Airlines.
Yes! In Nigeria, the community of Ethiopian Airlines staff became our second family. When we moved to Nairobi, it was the same. My father has passed, but there are people my mother still keeps in touch with and many fellow children of Ethiopian Airlines staff are still my friends. The airline itself feels like a family to me.

Read more at: Selamta Magazine