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Beneath the Lion's Gaze

3.87  ·  Rating Details ·  1,559 Ratings  ·  267 Reviews
An epic tale of a father and two sons, of betrayals and loyalties, of a family unraveling in the wake of Ethiopia’s revolution.

This memorable, heartbreaking story opens in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 1974, on the eve of a revolution. Yonas kneels in his mother’s prayer room, pleading to his god for an end to the violence that has wracked his family and country. His father, Hai
Hardcover, 308 pages
Published January 11th 2010 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published January 1st 2010)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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May 28, 2012 Terryn rated it it was amazing
Let’s be real here – a lot of what we (Westerners) know of Ethiopia is based on those late night aid commercials soliciting support for starving children with distended bellies and flies swarming their faces. This is incredibly problematic. Maaza Mengiste’s “Beneath The Lion’s Gaze” flies in the face of that monolithic stock image of the country and gives a richly drawn description of Ethiopian life before the 1974 revolution that many people know little or nothing about.

This is the story of a f
This book has a tone and the best word I have for it is sombre. I felt Mengiste's Ethiopia to be grand, dignified, ancient, steeped in its rich mythopoesis. The graceful prose seems to move glacially from idea to idea, image to image, never becoming fevered or fragmenting as its subjects do. The segments from the viewpoint of Haile Selassie seem entirely appropriate in this mood. What I'm saying might sound like distance, the vertical perspective of a strategy game, but the texture here is also ...more
Mwalimu Oduol
Jan 20, 2013 Mwalimu Oduol rated it it was amazing
I Had this book for a really long time but never got round to reading it. Now that i'm done im kinda wondering why it took me so long.

The book is about the Ethiopian revolution as seen though the eyes of a fictional family in the time period. The author goes to great lengths to get the reader to understand what each of the characters are going through before , during and after the revolution.i really felt like i was going through the struggle with the characters in the book and the decisions th
Feb 14, 2010 Marsha rated it really liked it
"Beneath the Lion's Gaze" begins in 1974 during the last days of Emperor Haile Selassie's despotic rule of Ethiopia. Told through the fates of members of a well educated family it conveys the chaos, contradictions and violence that beset the country.

As the story starts, the people of Ethiopia are literally dying of starvation as an aged and aloof Emperor goes about business as usual. Then seemingly overnight Emperor and officials are seized, murdered or detained and a new struggle begins. The ne
Loops Wuadaloops
Feb 16, 2017 Loops Wuadaloops rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Generalmente me pregunto si quieren quitar a Peña Nieto, a quién podrían? Las Revoluciones sirven cuando se sabe quién es el siguiente, cuando hay un líder que busca el bien común, la historia nos ha enseñado que eso no pasa y que desgraciadamente el Poder hace olvidar las "buenas intenciones" y corrompe al sistema y a las personas en él. Este libro ilustra perfecto cuantas vidas puede costar una mala decisión, recomendado más en estos tiempos de incertidumbre y próximas elecciones electorales.
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
First, the cover is not doing this book any favors. I assumed it was a memoir, probably of a child soldier or something.

Even once I realized this was a novel, I didn’t have high expectations for it: I was expecting another earnest but poorly-written book published on the strength of covering awful events in a time and place most Americans know little about. As it turns out, I did like the book more than expected.

Beneath the Lion’s Gaze is set in 1970’s Ethiopia, a time of enormous upheaval: foll
Feb 23, 2013 Sheryl rated it really liked it
I've had this book for years and finally got around to reading it, though, I admit, it took me awhile to feel connected to the story and the characters. However, I'm so glad I stuck with it. The setting is Ethiopia in the 1970s during the beginning of the Red Terror period of history there, in which a military government promising change and equality essentially terrorizes the civilian population and massacres any dissenters.
This story focuses mainly on a father and his two sons, which was intr
Jan 05, 2012 Nnedi rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved the characters and the setting was highly compelling. But I needed more plot. I really really needed more of a plot. You've got to have something happen, and that has to be shown as it's happening. Too many time whenever there was movement in the plot it was shown as FLASHBACK. 8-|. No.
Mar 03, 2011 Julia rated it it was amazing
Shelves: africa
Beneath the Lion's Gaze threw me right into a country and an historic era I knew little or almost nothing about, but Maaza Mengiste introduces gives a history lesson in an unotrusive way, using the family and neighborhood she portrays for showing the influence of politics on simple people who get involved in different ways, giving voice to various ideologies from the fiery Dawit who firmly believes in change and an egalitarian system, his quiet brother who tries to stay out of the way of history ...more
Kristin English
Feb 13, 2017 Kristin English rated it really liked it
3.5 stars, but closer to 4 than 3.

This was a quick read and had me wanting to read more and more to find out what would happen... so it was disappointing that the book didn't end with any clear conclusion.

It was based on the Ethiopian civil war, but only two of the characters (the Emperor and Guddu) were based on real people. This left me wondering how much of what I read was real, but the author's note at the end did show that she read a lot of books about the subject, such as prisoners' accou
Feb 28, 2010 Irene rated it it was amazing
Shelves: gave-away
This review was first written for Author Exposure:

Beneath the Lion’s Gaze disturbingly, vividly, and passionately reminds us that only those willing to be fearless in their quest for knowledge of our world community’s history will recognize what an indomitable spirit we though scattered, demonstrate as inhabitants of a global community. With an unwavering hand, Maaza Mengiste pens an extraordinarily gripping debut narrative during the turbulent events that
Todd Vanderwerff
Sep 12, 2010 Todd Vanderwerff rated it really liked it
Beneath the Lion's Gaze is such a fantastic and moving novel for 95 percent of its length that the little niggling things it doesn't do as well as it might end up feeling like bigger problems than they actually are. Author Maaza Mengiste is trying something hugely ambitious here, as she aims to sketch in an entire neighborhood that will stand in for a country little-represented in world literature. Few debut novels have this much ambition, which ultimately makes Mengiste's few missteps easier to ...more
“Beneath the Lion’s Gaze” is one of the most culturally-profound, unforgettable, deeply moving novels you've probably never heard of, but should consider reading. The mechanics are flawless; the prose is eloquent; the characters are powerfully identifiable; settings and atmosphere transport with vivid clarity. However, be cautioned – some scenes are quite graphic and disturbing. Unlike propaganda, truth doesn't masquerade as honey: “Sign this . . . we have a new and better way for you to rule . ...more
Mar 22, 2010 Beth rated it liked it
Beneath the Lions Gaze is the story of the Ethopian Revolution in the mid 1970s, from the point of view of multiple characters. It opens with a doctor operating on another gunshot victim, while reflecting on his youngest son's involvement in the war, and his wife, dying of cancer in the same hospital. The son gets caught up in the resistance, and the doctor euthanizes a torture victim of the regime.

It took me a long time to get into this book; I picked it up and
read about 20 pages of and put do
Feb 04, 2010 William rated it really liked it
The book follows one families fortunes as Ethiopia transitioned from the monarchy of Haile Salasie into the Army/thug dictatorship that followed. The family is relatively prosperous, the paternal head is one of Addis Ababa's most prominent physicians. Trained in England and married to a gorgeous wife from a royal clan. As you might guess things will not go well for this family under the new communist in name only regime.
But first family dynamics are played out against the back drop of a couple
Jul 03, 2011 Melissa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well written book, by an author behind whom rests the success of the future of pan-African modern story telling (based on the advanced praise).... Mengiste writes a story of a man and his two sons during the Red Terror of Ethopia's flirtation with Communism in it's path/struggle to overthrow the monarchy. The father loses his wife, sick from the very beginning of the novel, and then struggles with the perceived loss of his son as he watches his second son repeatedly put himself in danger by beco ...more
Jack Becker
I absolutely loved Part One of this book. I loved it so much that I defended it against the vehement attacks my classmates threw against it, citing the several typos and repetitive, odd word-choices (such as "ululations") as proof that it wasn't worthy enough to take time away from our Capstone, the most important project of our high-school careers. For the first week, I completely disagreed with them. All of the characters were sharp and effective in their roles, and every chapter was an entert ...more
Jul 14, 2011 Meredith rated it really liked it
Every page of this novel is filled with profound sadness: Death, torture, suffering, and just a prevailing mood of despondency. It's not the sort of book that one should be engrossed in while sitting poolside at a vacation resort -- the dissonance is nearly unbearable --but I simply could not put down this story about the 1970s revolution in Ethiopia, when Emperor Haile Selassie is executed by the military (as portrayed chillingly in this novel) and a group of Communist zealots terrorizes Addis ...more
Victor Chizi
Nov 07, 2016 Victor Chizi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Beneath the Lion's Gaze is a novel with its central theme based on the Ethiopian revolution( which began in 1974). Just like many other revolutions which have taken place around the world, it comes with a package of unprecedented and abrupt changes in the society, within the family, between friends, neighbours, the government and the security agents of the state.

Maaza Mengiste was able to capture some of the events and effects of the revolution on the Ethiopian society majorly through a particul
Heather Bridson
Aug 08, 2013 Heather Bridson rated it liked it
Well, I really had no idea what life is like in Ethiopia. All I really knew of it before this book was the commercials of starving children from the churches that wanted you to send money to help them, and an occasional blip on the news. So, this was a bit of a culture shock for me. The story was well written ad haunting. I cried, I fell in love with the characters and the land, and the imagery stuck with me.

I still can't believe people can do that sort of thing to other people. I know that it
Anne Broyles
Apr 07, 2011 Anne Broyles rated it it was amazing
This is the second novel I've read about Ethiopa (the other being CUTTING FOR STONE by Abraham Verghese) and I love them both for the different ways they portray a slice of Ethiopian history. Verghese's book focused on one family across a greater time period and in several countries. Mengiste's incredible debut novel focuses tightly on one family affected by the 1947 revolution that resulted in the emperor's death and a provisional council (the "Derg") taking over the country. Father Hailu; quie ...more
Feb 06, 2010 MomIsReading rated it it was amazing
Brilliant novel by a first time Ethiopian writer. Do not let the fact that this book is "fiction" fool you into thinking these events did not occur in Ethiopia. Being married to an Ethiopian who survived during the military (Derg) coup takeover of the Monarchy in 1974, the back story in this book is not fiction. My husband was able to finally leave Ethiopia about 7 years later and attend college in Sweden. It was almost 25 years before my husband was able to return to his homeland for a visit. T ...more
Mar 31, 2013 Viva rated it liked it
The book gave me a chance to learn about a people, culture, religion, and time period that I am not familiar with. However, I wanted more from the book. I was able to relate to the characters, but felt I could've connected a bit more with. I think the book had many themes and personalities going on, making it difficult for me to fully connect. I would still recommend it for reading and would read more from Maaza Mengiste.
A beautiful and painful book, following the end of the Ethiopian empire in 1974 and all the violence that came after. A story of a family and its neighbors, as the turmoil engulfs them, hurts and scars them, leaving destruction and some courage behind.
A must read, told beautifully. A fictional but enlightening tale about the Red Terror that engulfed Ethiopia once. (And with some hints to understand the country today...)
Zaynab tyty Quadri
Feb 02, 2015 Zaynab tyty Quadri rated it liked it
This book was not as amazing as i thought it would be while i love her writing and her diction. The plot was MEH! She was meandering without really giving us something concrete about the Ethiopian revolution that we did not already know.

All in all i love her characters, they were so real and so brave amidst all odds.

Sean Leas
Jun 15, 2016 Sean Leas rated it liked it
I wanted to like this book more than what I did, I tried. The story and the cultural background was perfect - I simply loved this aspect. The writing felt weak and inconsistent. Some chapters were full of fire and well-constructed prose. Other's fell flat. It took a long time before I even cared for many of the characters and for many they seemed like a blur - not fully developed.
Nov 30, 2016 Laurel rated it really liked it
A starkly beautiful rendering of one family's public and private struggles throughout the Ethiopian Revolution. The characters are so compelling, and the drama so intense, I'm struggling to describe a book about a place and time I knew literally nothing about. Raw, dignified, and ultimately hopeful.
Jan 14, 2010 Michael rated it it was ok
Mengiste has written a polite novel that does nothing to distinguish it from other books about wars.
Rhonda Felder
Nov 10, 2013 Rhonda Felder rated it it was amazing
Grippingly unsettling.
Mitchell Jackson
Jun 27, 2012 Mitchell Jackson rated it it was amazing
Another woman who knows her way around a sentence and also a thing or two about history.
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Maaza Mengiste was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and graduated with an MFA in Creative Writing from New York University. A recent Pushcart Prize nominee, her work has appeared in New York Magazine, The Baltimore Review, Ninth Letter and 42opus, has been translated and published into German and Romanian for Lettre International, and can be found in the Seal Press anthology Homelands: Women's Journ ...more
More about Maaza Mengiste...

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“When you are convinced that everything that happens is the will of God, what is there to do but wait until God has mercy?” 14 likes
“We must not be anything other than what we are.” 9 likes
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