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Notes from the Hyena's Belly: An Ethiopian Boyhood

3.84  ·  Rating Details ·  492 Ratings  ·  60 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
Paperback, 368 pages
Published January 5th 2002 by Picador (first published 2000)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,458)
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Jan 16, 2010 Jim rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 03, 2014 Joanne rated it it was ok
I only gave this two stars because it was consistently patchy. There were stretches that I really enjoyed and then stretches that I really didn't. By the end of this book, I found myself regularly thinking, "How the hell did he not die?" and that in itself was intriguing. Overall, an interesting, personal look back at a very turbulent time in Ethiopian history.
Bill Keefe
Jul 07, 2010 Bill Keefe rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 18, 2013 Louise rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, ethopia, africa
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
Sep 25, 2015 Laura rated it really liked it
As I sit here having my monthly dose of injeera, I wonder at the boundlessness of my ignorance. Nega introduces the reader to a part of Ethiopia's history that is perhaps less known, the South/ East of the country and the war with Somalia for the territories of Jijiga, Harar etc. It is an important historical document and one that certainly opened my eyes to how much warfare this country has witnessed in the past century. I was more knowledgeable about Ethiopia's war with Eritrea and of course t ...more
Apr 18, 2012 itpdx rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
May 15, 2016 Mitch rated it liked it
Shelves: biographical
Something about this book unsettles me.

It's not that it chronicles the atrocities of Nega's boyhood in Ethiopia, although those are horrific. I don't think it's that the writing is a bit odd, coming as it does from a person whose native tongue is Amharic.

It's the writer and his content. I don't believe he told the whole story.

He writes of a time when he willingly joined a resistance force, then goes on to say his side committed atrocities, but fails to mention any that he himself committed. It w
Mar 29, 2015 Sooz rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
in many ways the Ethiopia's story -told in this memoir- is a common one. too common. feudal system with an imperial ... an ineffective, disengaged, oppressive imperial government is challenged and overthrown by the people. internal strife for power ensues and the military -with aid from the U.S.S.R.- is the dominate force that takes control. a quasi-communist government with a paranoid eye uses all the tatics we have heard about in China under Mao and U.S.S.R. under Stalin. What happened in the ...more
Mar 23, 2014 Brita rated it liked it
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
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.
Sep 15, 2015 brook rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating story. I knew of Selassie and the kingdom before him, but not of the junta and war with Somalis. The author does a great job of writing in the voice he had at that time. When he describes a slave-owning man as a kid, it is in the voice of a kid, awed by his social standing. When he describes the sharecropper system and its cruelty, it is as a student sure of the infallibility of Selassie, who couldn't possibly know of this inequality.

I think the author's ability to put you in his
May 31, 2014 Simone rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 09, 2013 Jeannette rated it liked it
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
Aug 09, 2015 Dan rated it really liked it
Shelves: own
Great narrative describing the authors first 20 or so years of life. Full of humor. Interesting how people adopt the new (Catholicism, e.g.) while respecting the old (shamans and spirits). Easy now to understand better how individuals with good intention get involved in insurgent groups. The faction then becomes corrupt rendering the individual almost a non-entity. Mezlekia does all this without a trace of bitterness.
Jan 27, 2013 Jetreno rated it really liked it
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
Rowland Bismark
Jul 27, 2010 Rowland Bismark rated it liked it
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
Suzanne Auckerman
Feb 22, 2016 Suzanne Auckerman rated it really liked it
Written from his childhood until he managed to immigrate to Canada for graduate school. It increases the understanding of how young men, even boys, end up fighting. It is definitely more circumstantial than ideological.
Oct 01, 2010 Kristin rated it liked it
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
Aug 13, 2014 Ashenafi Nebro rated it it was amazing
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
Thomas Steigenga
Aug 21, 2016 Thomas Steigenga rated it liked it
A great personal story set within the tumultuous recent history of Ethiopia.
Rob and Liz
Oct 25, 2015 Rob and Liz rated it really liked it
I started reading this book while we were traveling in Ethiopia this summer. I chose this book because it is one of the few e-books available on Amazon that is written by an Ethiopian author about Ethiopia. This compelling biography tells the story of the author's youth, adolescence and young adulthood during the end of the reign of Haile Selassie (the last emperor of Ethiopia) through the communist years. The section about the author's years as a college student in Addis Ababa during the commun ...more
Tom Elliott
Sep 07, 2016 Tom Elliott rated it really liked it
Great first hand account of a man who survived several different oppressive regimes in Ethiopia. His matter-of-fact accounts of everyday violence are unnerving, especially because his style is very accessible and personable. Through his personal story, he provides an excellent modern history of Ethiopia that is not grinding any particular ax.
Nov 23, 2008 Emily rated it it was amazing
Shelves: africa
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.
Jun 27, 2008 Susan rated it really liked it
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.
Christian Dalager
Stærkt fortalte barndomserindringer fra det østlige Etiopien i 70'erne.
Et sted og en tid, hvor man ikke fik lov til at være barn.
En vekslen mellem personlige erindringer, Etiopisk kulturhistorie, beskrivelser af den afrikanske udgave af kommunismen / "scientific socialism" praktiseret af en militærjunta i 70'erne, geopolitiske interesser og -historie på Afrikas Horn gør det til en fascinerende men grufuld læseoplevelse.
Jen Burke
Jul 24, 2010 Jen Burke rated it liked it
Shelves: dublin-book-club
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.
Dec 27, 2014 Alida rated it liked it
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.
Sep 20, 2010 Iva rated it really liked it
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.
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Nega Mezlekia (Amharic: ነጋ መዝለክአ; born 1958) is an Ethiopian writer who writes in English. His first language is the Amharic language, but since the 1980s he has lived in Canada so speaks and writes in English.

Nega was born in Jijiga, the oldest son of Mezlekia, a bureaucrat in the Imperial government. Although initially supporting the revolution that deposed Emperor Haile Selassie, he grew strong
More about Nega Mezlekia...

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“Apathy in the face of continual violence is something someone who has never lived through a war cannot understand.” 0 likes
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