Beneath the Lion's Gaze
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Beneath the Lion's Gaze

3.86 of 5 stars 3.86  ·  rating details  ·  1,012 ratings  ·  200 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...more
Hardcover, 308 pages
Published January 11th 2010 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published January 1st 2010)
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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...more
Mwalimu Oduol
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...more
"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...more
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
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...more
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
Heather Bridson
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...more
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
Todd Vanderwerff
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
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...more
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...more
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
Anne Broyles
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
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.
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.
The book follows a surgeon and his family through the overthrow of the Ethiopian monarchy and its aftermath. It is well-written, with characters who are complex enough that you understand all of their (often vastly different) perspectives and can sympathise with even those you might not expect. It is a fantastic commentary on the ways in which a regime or an idea can become more powerful than- and sometimes counter- the intentions of the people involved in it, and the ways in which both oppresso...more
Beneath the Lion’s Gaze

This is a dreadful novel, made all the more dreadful by the writer’s keen ability to evoke the deadly atmosphere of the Ethiopian Revolution of the 1970s. For if this is, as is apparently the case, a first novel, and notwithstanding the occasional writerly blemish that might remind one of such, it is a text of great strength and subtlety that belies the author’s lack of experience.

It cannot have been easy to work through material that echoes so strongly of Kafka, Zamyatin...more
Mengiste has written a polite novel that does nothing to distinguish it from other books about wars.
**I'm going with 3.5 of 5 here -- because, you know, these half-star differences so clearly matter**

Maaza Mengiste's tale of revolution in Ethiopa grew on me. Well, that's not quite right. I don't remember how I stumbled upon this book initially, but the first chapter is really quite gripping. It's just that the rest of the novel's first part isn't as effectively written -- Mengiste sometimes moves from one plot point to another without any clear reason or context, and characters didn't have a w...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
This is a bit of a tough read at times, with a great many gruesome torture scenes, but ultimately I found it compelling. It follows a particular well-to-do family in Ethiopia during the "revolution" and terror of the 1970s, along with some of their acquaintances – all in all it amounts to a huge and unwieldy cast. Unfortunately this means that most of the characters seem rather two-dimensional, but the sheer breadth of the work distracted me from that while reading.

This novel's main strength is...more
If I had to stack Beneath the Lion’s Gaze on a shelf, I’d put it in the “historical fiction” category. The Ethiopian-American writer Maaza Mengiste’s first novel is more about history than story, more about facts than poetry, more about politics than love. In a recent interview on World Literature Today, Mengiste confessed that she intended to write a detached nonfiction account of Ethiopia’s Derg regime, but instead discovered that informing audiences of this gruesome era through one family’s s...more
This book reminded me a lot of why I study Global Development. I gave up counting how many influences of neo colonialism I saw in this book, and how it really destroys a society. I feel like it's common for media to describe these events as "Africans and their wars" while I see the western countries roles in why things turn out the way they do.

The book had a lot of characters to keep track on. To mention a few; Dawit was a bit like a "thinker" that later on became a "doer". He realized that han...more
In the 1970s, Emperor Haile Selassie's regime brings famine and growing discontent among the people. The civil war that ensues sees greater tragedy, fear with a military that grows in power and Communistic fervor.

This civil war forms the background of a family torn asunder in the process. A prominent doctor, Dr Hailu, suffers through his wife's death, is confused by his younger son's growing distance and dangerous pursuit of revolution, and is brought sharply to the present by a young girl seve...more
Ellen Keim
Okay, I know I'm juvenile, but I like my novels to have satisfying endings. The ending of this novel is left up in the air, although the implication is that it is not going to be a happy one. However, considering the subject, it's hard to see how it could be. The story starts with the 1974 Ethiopian revolution which deposed the emperor Haile Selassie and continues with the events that took place after the military took over. The descriptions of the torture and executions that were perpetrated on...more
Beneath the Lion's Gaze is set in 1970's Ethiopia. The Government is overthrown and a Marxist regime takes over... the results are nothing short of devastating.

As I was reading this, I kept wondering why Ethiopia's conflict had escaped my memory, or even if it was ever there in the first place. It wasn't because I was too young - I clearly remember hearing of Pol Pot's Cambodia and Idi Amin's Uganda. Maybe these and other regimes were somehow more newsworthy or memorable? Or maybe it was the dev...more
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...more
This book looks at the life of a family -- that of a middle-class doctor Hailu working in a hospital in Addis Ababa -- and sets the family's relationships and dramas against a riveting political backdrop.

Set at the time of the fall of Haile Selassie in 1974, the book delves into details of his deposition, of the Soviet-backed Derg military revolution, and of the underground resistance to the revolution.

Although I find it hard to read descriptions of torture, this felt like an important novel. Be...more
Maaza Mengiste’s first novel Beneath the Lion’s Gaze is both wonderfully readable and painfully informative. The novel tells the story of the Ethiopian Revolution of the 1970s by combining the facts of the Revolution (with some creative license taken, of course) with one family’s personal experience. Mengiste weaves together the viewpoints of various characters in order to create a lasting image of what life was like for the victims of this terrible tragedy in world history.

The action of the no...more
Robert Delikat
Relevant to present-day Africa and the Middle East, Beneath the Lion’s Gaze is a powerful book that was not easy for me to read. The descriptions of events within the novel were brutal, horrifyingly violent and disturbing vivid. Maaza Mengiste fictionalizes the reality of the last days of Emperor Haile Selassie's despotic rule of Ethiopia and the beginning of the Derg reign of terror following his overthrow. While not easy to read because of its heartbreaking tales of torture and death, the stor...more
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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
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