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The Wife's Tale: A Personal History

3.62  ·  Rating details ·  485 ratings  ·  112 reviews
A hundred years ago, a girl was born in the northern Ethiopian city of Gondar. Before she was ten years old, Yetemegnu was married to a man two decades her senior, an ambitious poet-priest. Over the next century her world changed beyond recognition.

She witnessed Fascist invasion and occupation, Allied bombardment and exile from her city, the ascent and fall of Emperor Hai
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published March 20th 2018 by Harper
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Hilde Baccarne This is where Yetemegnu's son Edemariam (the author's father) went to study and also found his wife.
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This is a bit different type of memoir/biography. The author tells the story of her grandmother, Yetemegnu Mekonnen, who was born in Goudar, Ethiopia in 1916. She was married at age eight to a man who was almost thirty years of age. Edemanam’ s writing is in a beautiful rhythmic prose. The description of the country, superstitions, and customs of early twentieth century Ethiopia is superb. I almost felt as if I was there during the Italian invasion. Toward the end of the book, she told of the mo ...more
Briar's Reviews
The Wife's Tale is a beautiful history of a family that will pull at your heart strings.

My goodness, this book was impossible for me to put down. This breath taking recount of a woman's life in Ethiopia was truly incredible. I'm Canadian and I haven't left North America, so reading about other people's lives has always been something I enjoy. Seeing into this woman's life and the troubles and triumphs that occurred... It's so incredible that there are hardly words.

This memoir is worth every seco
Dec 16, 2018 rated it liked it
The twentieth century history of Ethiopia is told here by the author through the remarkable life of her paternal grandmother, Yetemegnu, to whom this book is also a personal tribute. Although a biography rather than a memoir, the author attempts to tell the story through her grandmother’s eyes.

Yetemegnu was born in 1916 and died in 2013. She was married at the age of eight (you read that right) to a priest who was 22 years older than her, and had the first of her 9 children at the age of 14 (a t
I have debated with myself how to rate this book. At first, it was really slow and I wanted to abandon it. The writing was stilted as if the author didn't want to bother writing proper sentences. The random bible paragraphs annoyed me. But since I wanted to read something about Ethiopia, I persevered and definitely do not regret it. The story is what ultimately drew me in.

The narrative centres around the life of Yetemegnu, the author's grandmother. Born in Ethiopia in the 1920s, she was married
May 09, 2018 rated it liked it
I think the best advice to a potential reader is to skip to the back of the book and look at the glossary and the timeline. For some reason the publisher decided to put this information at the back of the book instead of up with the map at the beginning in the book and it's to the books detriment. After being constantly confused during the reading, I did not encounter the glossary or the timeline until after I finished the book.

As other reviewers have stated, the book was in need of a family tre
May 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
For anyone unfamiliar with the 20th century history of Ethiopia, this is a wonderful and mind-broadening introduction.

The prime focus of the book is Yetemegnu, who we are first introduced to on the day she is married off, at eight, to a man two decades her senior. Yetemegnu’s life encompassed most of the last century, and she was regularly caught up in the various turmoils her country went through.

The author is one of her granddaughters, and she has spent many years recording the stories her g
Wendy Jensen
Apr 16, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
A chilling account of life in Ethiopia. I found it hard to follow and understand in places but overall a very interesting book.

I received this book for free through Goodreads First Reads.
Tashfin Awal
I received this book for free through Goodreads Giveaways and have chosen to give my honest opinion about it.
While definitely a touching story it almost seems like an overdone and cliched one. While I do recognize that this was the recounting of a true story, it seems as if it could have been better written; the writing style was confusing (for instance, it was hard to distinguish from the narrator and from her own thoughts). That being said, the events in this book are definitely inspiring and
Mairead Hearne (
'A ring was threaded onto her third finger, another onto the man’s. It would be years before she understood what she had promised’

The Wife’s Tale, a personal history, is the story of one woman’s life growing up and growing old in her native home of Ethiopia. Written by Aida Edemariam, she recalls the stories that her grandmother, Yetemegnu, passed on to her about her life and the incredible changes she witnessed in her country.

Published by 4th Estate, The Wife’s Tale, is a tribute to Yetemeg
Rebecca Hock
I was really looking forward to reading this book when I won it through GoodReads. I began reading the book and it was incredibly hard to even get through about 40 pages. I could not seem to follow the story. It seemed to jump all over the place. I finally just gave up as the book seemed to make no sense whatsoever. Really disappointed. Definitely will not be recommending this book to anyone.
Stephanie Jane
Feb 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
See more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits

Despite it now being well over thirty years since the infamous Michael Buerk report that showed Ethiopia's terrible famine to the world, those are still the only images that flash into my mind whenever the country is mentioned. There is so much more to Ethiopian culture and history though and I now have a wider appreciation of daily life there through the twentieth century thanks to The Wife's Tale: Aida Edemariam's biography of her grandmoth
Jul 13, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
3 1/2 stars. This book contains some beautiful prose and some striking glimpses into the domestic life of Edemariam’s grandmother, Yetemegnu, her life encompassed the 20th century (and all its turbulence) in Ethiopia.
My prior knowledge of Ethiopia, its geography, history and people was limited to a vague awareness of coups, civil wars, drought and famine. This book has given me a much greater understanding of alternative perspectives. A country with an abundance of produce, deeply rooted Christi
This story is about the author's 95 year old grandmother who grew up in Ethiopia. The story begins as 8 year old Yetemegnu is married to a man 20 years older than her. Apparently, this is not uncommon in Ethiopia 100 years ago.

There is an incident whereby Yetemegnu supposedly is thought to have a goiter on her neck. Treatment follows that is unbelievably cruel and painful. There are many superstitions and weird beliefs among her people. She gives birth to her first child at age 14. She suffers
May 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Edited to add: This work just won the 2019 Ondaatje Prize for “best spirit of place” (in this case Ethiopia) Congratulations!

Shortlisted for the 2019 Ondaatje Prize, which rewards the literary work of
any genre that best evokes a “spirit of place”, this book is a biography of the author’s grandmother, who lived in Ethiopia for most of the 20th century. It describes Ethiopian culture and history through wars, colonization and finally Independence.
Sarah Beth
Mar 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
I received an uncorrected proof copy of this book from HarperCollins.

This memoir tells the life story of the author's grandmother, Yetemegnu, who was born in Gondar, Ethiopia in 1916 and was married at the age of nine to a man many years her senior. Yetemegnu endured numerous trials including becoming a mother at the age of 14, the death of several of her children, her husband's imprisonment, and widowhood at a young age with several young children under care. She lived through the Fascist inva
Jun 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In this wonderful biography of her grandmother, Edemariam aptly takes the reader through not one but several interwoven journeys - her family's with at the centre her grandmother Yetemegnu; Ethiopia's, from the beginning of the 20th century and the Empire of Haile Selassie through to the Derg, and the EPLF, to the beginning of the 21st century; and lastly the people's, Ethiopians of all ages, social statuses, political backgrounds.

It is a spiritual journey we are take on. Married according to tr
Margaret Madden
Jun 04, 2018 rated it liked it
A young girl delights in the memories her nanny recounts: "Pushing her on, as I did more and more often, knowing many of the stories, but knowing also that there were more, told and retold for decades, shaped, reshaped - or sometimes, when enough time had passed - cracked open in the telling." The curious grandchild asks: "When were you happy?" and the answer is honest and succinct. A prologue to an eventful life: "I'm never happy," came the answer, "I'm always crying. All of my life is painted ...more
A complicated personal history of Ethiopian Yètèmegn Mèkonnen; one hundred years of life retold by her granddaughter Aida Edemariam. Yètemegn is born in Ethiopia in the early 1900s to reasonably well off parents and married off at the ripe old age of eight to a man almost in his thirties, an ambitious priest named Tsèga Teshale. Yètèmegn will have 10 children by him and weather revolutions, famine, Tsèga's unjust imprisonment, his death and the deaths of several of their children. Despite not be ...more
Pamela Scott

Professional Reader

(ARC from publisher via NetGalley and voluntarily reviewed)

The Wife’s Tale was an okay read but nothing particularly brilliant.

It’s one of those books that is hard to criticise or praise. I thought it would be a good read. Judging by the blurb it sounds like a gripping, tear-jerker. In reality, not so much. I felt the book just doesn’t live up to it’s potential. I found it very dull at times and struggled to get through the book.

The story doesn’t flow part
Cathryn Wellner
Dec 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Edemariam's creative "personal history" is also a sweeping view of nearly a century of change in Ethiopia. At the center is the author's grandmother, Yetemegnu. Edemariam's years of reading and research fill the book with detail so rich that reading the book is a sensual experience.

Ironically, Yetemegnu's liberation as an independent woman comes because her cleric husband is imprisoned on false charges. Married as a child, she is freed of the confinement he has imposed on her. Drawing on her inn
Mar 10, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: canlit
The Wife's Tale: A Personal History is written in a style that truly reminds me of the Bible. The form it takes is so high and mighty that it plods along from era to era in Aida Edemariam's personal history. I just wish there had been a personal voice in this epic - there was such potential for a melody to string each "month" together. But the whole books seems to have been lost in tradition. Dry, repetitive, and one-dimensional are three words I would use to describe this book, unfortunately. ...more
Sarah MacIntyre
Feb 22, 2018 rated it liked it
I love historical stories and even better when a true one. I was intrigued by the description of this biography of the history of Ethiopian Yètèmegn Mèkonnenas told by her granddaughter Aida Edemariam. Yètemegn is born in the early 1900s into a respected family. However, she is married off before she is 10 to an older man - a priest. This is Yètèmegn's story taking us from 1916 to 2013. A book of strength, justice and courage with a fascinating insight into the culture, history and politics of E ...more
Feb 10, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Oh god how hard it was to navigate through that story. It's description was very interesting yet I got a repetitive fragments, small history hints and a lot of vague story which was meant to be personal, but seemed only a shadows of such to me. The epilogue, when the author talks more directly about her feelings and her family was the most clear and enjoyable part of the book.

The form of an audiobook was also a pain for me - the voiceover irritated me so much with the shouting and fake accents.
May 04, 2018 rated it did not like it
I received this book for free through Goodreads. I struggled to get through this book and found it hard to follow and often was confused as to what was going on since it seemed to jump around so much from one time to another, from one person to another... The good part of the book was that there was a glossary and time line at the back so that helped with the reading of unfamiliar Ethiopian events and customs.
Catherine Milmine
Mar 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Won this book from Goodreads. Enjoyed this personal history from childhood to her death, all the trials and tribulations she went through, the love for her family and country. Thank you for sharing her life story.
Trevor Pearson
Received a copy of A Wife's Tale by Aida Edemariam through the GoodReads giveaway program in exchange for an honest review

A Wife's Tale by Aida Edemariam tells a story of an unyielding woman named Yètèmegnu during a troubling time in Ethiopia as a country and a city of Gondar that is dead set in their ways when it comes to tradition and rituals but also must deal with the threat of an occupation of their country in the not-to-distant future. A very different regime than that of Ethiopia is look
Lyn Zuberbuhler
Apr 27, 2018 rated it liked it
A fascinating biography of an Ethiopian woman, Yetegmetsu, married at 8 years to a man 22 years her senior, who basically raised her to be the wife he wanted. She had 10 children, of which 3 died.
Her 95 years saw incredible changes in her country, and her own growth in stature as a woman to be reckoned with, fighting for her husband’s release from prison and then for his honour. Then she fought for her children’s education, although she did not learn to read until she was in her 60’s. (As a chi
Rosemary Standeven
Feb 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Initially this book reminded me so much of Tolkien’s “Silmarillion” – a fabulous land with so much history, excerpts from ancient religious scrolls, weird rituals, poetry, feasting, bible-like prose … It was all just so alien to me – not just another time, but another place – another world. This was not helped by the main action taking place in a province called Gondar (c.f. Tolkien’s Gondor!). I had to keep reminding myself that this was a real story about a real person.
The other thing that str
May 04, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: giveaways
I finished reading The Wife’s Tale:A Personal History by Aida Edemarian. I found it a hard read. It was a memoir of her great grandnmother of the woman’s perspective of her life in Ethiopia with her husband during the years
Apr 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Spanning 100 years, this is a fascinating memoir of the author's grandmother, who was born and raised in the city of Gondar in Ethiopia. Married at 8 to a man (a poet-priest) who was over three times her age, this memoir follows her life through the changing world of the 20th century, witnessing Fascist invasion, revolution, civil war and famine, whilst enduring parenthood, widowhood and the death of children. Edemariam's retelling of her grandmother's stories opens up a new world and culture to ...more
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Aida Edemariam, whose father is Ethiopian and mother Canadian, grew up in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She studied English literature at Oxford and the University of Toronto, and has worked as a journalist in New York (at Harper’s Magazine), Toronto and London, where she is a senior feature writer and editor for the Guardian, writing on everything from politics to literature (essays on the academic nove ...more

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