Notes from the Hyena's Belly: An Ethiopian Boyhood
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Notes from the Hyena's Belly: An Ethiopian Boyhood

3.81 of 5 stars 3.81  ·  rating details  ·  339 ratings  ·  48 reviews
Winner of the Governor General's Award
A Library Journal Best Book of 2001

Part autobiography and part social history, Notes from the Hyena's Belly offers an unforgettable portrait of Ethiopia, and of Africa, during the 1970s and '80s, an era of civil war, widespread famine, and mass execution. "We children lived like the donkey," Mezlekia remembers, "careful not to wander o...more
Paperback, 368 pages
Published January 5th 2002 by Picador (first published 2000)
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Jan 16, 2010 Jim rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: own
Since my wife and I are pursuing adopting a child from Ethiopia, we have begun reading books about the land and its people.

This book tells the story of a boy growing up in the late 60s and early 70s during a time of political turmoil and upheaval following the fall of Emperor Halie Selassie.

The language, phrasing, and story telling of this book is quite beautiful, helping you to enter into the mindset and culture of the land. The "meaning" of many events told in the book are related through the...more
Bill Keefe
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
The book is aptly titled because it is a series of notes. The first are notes are from Nega Mezlekia's childhood which is heavily influenced by folklore and superstition. The culture accepts child abuse at school and at home and if corporal punishment fails, healers are called on to expel demons in the most unscientific ways. The writing style of this memoir evokes novels of magical realism.

The content and dearth of material on Ethiopia make this an important book. We see how the fall/murder of...more
This memoir of Nega Mezlekia's early life is a revelation. He tells us much about his family, himself and his country, Ethiopia, in clear language. During his childhood Haile Selassie mismanages the country, is deposed and a military junta takes over. There is civil war, war with neighbors and internal corruption and repression. Mezlekia comes close to death a number of times. This book will give you an understanding of Ethiopia and, in general, many African countries. The book is wonderfully sp...more
Book Lust

Notes from the Hyena's Belly is the memoir of a man who grew up in an Ethiopian city near the border with Somalia. The town of Jijiga was split between the Amhara Christian north and the Somali Muslim south, but the two sides coexisted peacefully at the time of his birth in 1958.

The story that develops is much the same as what we saw in Cutting for Stone. The revolution creeps in to begin destroying lives, but in this memoir, it happens much more quickly. Mezlekia finds himself involved...more
Mar 05, 2009 Kathy added it
Recommends it for: Toby
Shelves: travel-adventure
How blessed we are, by accident of birth, to be Americans.
How little we understand about the rest of the world.
One of the most humorous and touching stories that I have ever read in my life. Nega manages to successfully describe the horrors of his childhood in Ethiopia and his stint as a child soldier in a funny and touching manner. At times I felt as if the author was not even aware of how funny he is. I recommend this read for anyone who wants to know more about Ethiopia and Somalia's history through the eyes of an actual Ethiopian. There are moments in this book that will make you both laugh and cry....more
Africa, and stories, especially personal stories, about the continent fascinate me. I'm trying to read current books like this one as well as classics like "Things Fall Apart". The latter book is by far the better of the two. "The Lost Boys of Sudan" could be a companion book to "Notes from the Hyena's Belly". Nowadays, the whole of northern Africa is a confusing, appalling, soul destroying political mess. The Rwanda genocide story just adds to the general ugly view of African life. Read the lig...more
Very insightful. Author has a very interesting way of conveying information. This book has
addressed some very serious issues but the format is such that you are not hit over the head with the information. Author grew up in Ethopia. He discusses his childhood, the community around him,
the beliefs of his family and other groups in the community, his schooling, his friends, the trouble that they find. Then as his life changes, we see the changes that take place in both him and his homeland. Not onl...more
Rowland Bismark
Wonderful book. Concise, clear writing, a remarkable tale about coming of age in Ethiopia in the era just after Heili Selassi is dethroned. This is a vivid but gentle account of his own and his countries struggle to move from the world of nomadic tribes and custom through the rigorous and corrupt control of the Catholic Church and into the dangerous world of education and western thought. His story is one of avoiding death from hunger, from warring tribes, nations and ideologies and the bereft b...more
I haven't read a war memoir this engrossing and tragicomic since probably Babel's Red Calvary. Mezlekia's journey through the whirlwind of Ethiopia's revolutions and wars is all the more remarkable because he was able to survive. With dry and sardonic wit, Mezlekia intersperses his experiences with Ethiopian fables and folklore, historical overviews, personal insight, and cultural and ethnographic information. He ended up specializing in agronomy and civil engineering, so the lengthy discussion...more
As part of my search for books about Africa, I am reading this memoir of a young man growing up during a tumultuous period in Ethiopia's history. The first part of the book is a constant shift between a sort of magical thinking based on folk beliefs and real events, where the city streets are ruled by wild hyenas at night. As he enters his teen years, he gets caught in the waves of political movements and wavers between a strict academic environment and running off the join the uprising" where t...more
Ashenafi Nebro
I read this book few years ago and every time I see the cover a smile and nice feeling of childhood memory, time of innocence feels my heart. It is a wonderful and memorable read. Kudos to Nega!
Especially interesting to me since most of the events occurred at or near the time I lived in Hararge, Ethiopis, the same region where Ato Nega lived. I visited Jijiga, Harar, Dire Dawa, and Alamayu Agricultural Training Center and other places mentioned in the book. His description of the bus trip from Harar to Addis Ababa through Asbe Teferi brings back memories of several bus trips we took, and at least one train trip from Addis to Dire Dawa. The horrors of the Red Terror, when about 100,000...more
Notes From the Hyena's Belly by Nega Mezlekia is a fascinating memoir,there were amazing similarities with our Texas/ Mexico borderlands, we have more in common than we do differences.

Notes from the coversheet: "Out of this rich, sundrenched land where modern corruption rides ancient custom like a predator, Mezlekia crafts a world elegant in it's aridity, extreme in it's absurdity, and vast in it's ironies.

Rich in wisdom, humor, and poetry. a story of high drama.

Enjoyed every page.
Absorbing book about Mezlekia's boyhood in Ethiopia in the 70's and 80's. During this time Haille Selassie was deposed by the junta and the country went to war with Somalia. In the midst of civil war and famine, Mezlekia remembers the rich cultural history of his country. Mezlekia loses many of the people he loved during the novel, including his parents and one of his best friends. He intersperses his narrative with traditional stories that his mother told him as a child. Very engaging.
Spanning the deposition of Emperor Selassie and the term of the socialist junta supported by USSR and Cuba, this childhood memoir is evocative of today's events in other African countries. It does provide interesting insight into the relationship of Somalia and Ethiopia. It also reminds the reader of child soldiers and the wanton destruction of young lives in times like these. It was a well-written, interesting history of a young man who now lives in Canada.
Jen Burke
I'm not sure how to rate this book. This guy has an amazing life story to tell. Perfect fodder for a memoir. I'm glad I read it. It makesme want to learn more about Ethiopia. But the book's tone is somewhat detached. Perhaps this is because english is a second language. Perhaps it's some sort of coping mechanism. Either way, understandable, but that's why I'm giving it 3 stars instead of 4.
A friend lent me this book; she knows the author. It made me even more thankful to grow up and live in a peaceful, stable country. How can someone function after seeing and experiencing such violence in his formative years? I made the mistake of reading an especially violent part last night before I went to sleep. Not conducive to a good night. I would give this book 3.5 stars.
Mezlekia shares his impressions of growing up in a very tumultuous time--the 70's and 80's in Ethiopia. He manages to become educated in spite of the poverty and being forced out of his home and serving time as a soldier. It is a sad story --he lost many people close to him-- but filled with background, folktales and history of Ethiopia. Untimately he survived to tell his story.
Joy B.
The first few chapters were so funny, so witty and a great mix of storytelling and history. Then he goes on and on about cave fighting and revolutions that I just don't know enough about to follow the narration. I guess he and his editor had a huge dispute over who actually wrote the book...whoever wrote the first half deserves the payout!
Another great Ethiopian writer! 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.
I found myself taking the non-express bus to and from work so that I had a few extra minutes to read this book. It's an easy read and puts a human face on events, the impact of which I previously knew through the more objective and analytic lens of my work with an NGO.
In pursuit of my quest to learn more about Africa, one country at a time, I read this book. Well written with a nice combination of narrative and fact. Helped me get a better sense of the country, its problems, and our perceptions of Ethiopia as equating famine.
Kate Jongbloed
An lite easy way to get some recent Ethiopian history. It was great to read about places that I've been and loved, by someone who's been and (not necessarily) loved. And of course, I liked the combined aspects of history, experience and culture.
Seemed to drag a bit, although it only took me a week, it felt like I had been reading it much longer. Of course, its not a light and happy read either, which probably contributed to that feeling. But I did like the book.
Not badly written, I found this somewhat fragmentary, particularly the ending, where all the early energy was indetectible. I gained some insight into recent Ethiopian history. But it could have been so much better.
A story of growing up in Ethiopia, it started off well but I lost interest towards the end. I felt the author tried to tell too much in one book and never really dug deep enough into any of the stories.
A gripping story! Rich in wisdom, humor, and poetry, this is not simply the story of a boy coming of age, it is a portrait of a nation and its people. You should read it! Good pace and well written.
Nega has seen it all. From a being froced to move to a different country to wars right outside his backyard. He seen it all. I'm impressed he keep going for as long as he did.
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