Ethiopia Book Reviews

We’ve had to look pretty hard to find books on Ethiopia. Most are either long, dry history books or very basic ones that come from the juvenile non-fiction section of the library (which are actually not bad … more on those later).

I managed to track down three decent ones that could all stand alone as good reads. Here are my reviews.

Held at a Distance: My Rediscovery of Ethiopia – by Rebecca Haile

I would not have come across this book if I didn’t have an interest in Ethiopia, but I’m so glad I did. In some ways the Ethiopia story mirrors other African countries. But in many ways it is very different, with its own culture, history and mythology. The author does a good job making these distinctions and showing the unique and beautiful aspects of the country and the people.

Rebecca Haile shares her own story, having left at 10 years old after the persecution of her father, and returning 25 years later. She gives a thoughtful perspective on what it means to be Ethiopian. She digs into the stories, the people, the religions and the choices of the country’s leaders. It paints a wonderful and detailed portrait that reveals the complexity of the country. I of course thought about our daughter and how she will discover Ethiopia some day.

Notes from the Hyena’s Belly: An Ethiopian Boyhood – by Nega Mezlekia

Mezlekia is a brilliant Ethiopian writer and I loved his book. Apparently, there was some controversy over how much a ghost writer helped him out. Either way, they did a great job and the events all happened to him, so it doesn’t take away from the impact of the book.

Nega spent most of his life growing up in Ethiopia, through the fall of the king, the ruling of the military juntas and many changes throughout the country. It was an incredibly traumatic life, but he tells the story with great humor and optimism. It reminded me of Frank McCourt and all the terrible things that happened to him that somehow came out as quirky, warm, often funny stories that make a broader statement about life.

Refugee Boy – by Benjamin Zephaniah

This was an interesting, quick read. After the first few pages, it was evident that this is a book targeted toward youth. It’s about a boy whose dad is Ethiopian and mother is Eritrean, during the war of Eritrean secession. The parents are persecuted on both sides of the border and fear for their life, so the boy’s dad brings him to England and leaves him there as a refugee. It does give a few good bits about Ethiopian culture and some background on the war. But for the most part, it’s about how difficult it is for refugees trying to start a life in a new country.

This book reads a bit like an after-school movie (I’m obviously dating myself – do they still make those?). It’s all about the plot and circumstances that teach us an obvious lesson of inclusion and understanding. The author is not Ethiopian, I think he’s from Jamaica. However, it was light and quick, a little bit sad, and I’ll take any scraps of Ethiopian-related literature I can find.

I’d like to get the first two books for our collection, and maybe get the other one from the library for Hannah to read in a couple of years. There’s so much more to read on parenting, attachment, mixed race families, and adoption. But it’s been fun to dive into the Ethiopian culture to get started.

If anyone has other recommendations, please pass them along!


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