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The Shadow King

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  272 ratings  ·  71 reviews
A gripping novel set during Mussolini’s 1935 invasion of Ethiopia, The Shadow King takes us back to the first real conflict of World War II, casting light on the women soldiers who were left out of the historical record.

With the threat of Mussolini’s army looming, recently orphaned Hirut struggles to adapt to her new life as a maid in Kidane and his wife Aster’s household.
Hardcover, 448 pages
Published September 24th 2019 by W. W. Norton Company
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Autumn Yes. There are several scenes that depict rape. There's also a lot of physical violence.…moreYes. There are several scenes that depict rape. There's also a lot of physical violence. (less)

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Maaza Mengiste's blend of poetic and lyrical historical fiction and fact that focuses on little known aspects of the beginnings of WW2 is an extraordinary and gripping literary accomplishment but nevertheless proved to be a challenge to read. It has echoes of Shakespearean plays and elements of classic Greek plays with its use of a collective chorus speaking for all with one voice, but the deployment of a lack of puntuation in parts of the storytelling made reading this difficult until I became ...more
Nenia ⚡ Aspiring Evil Overlord ⚡ Campbell

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DNF @ p. 194

This book is set during WWII, under the reign of Mussolini, and it's about the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. There are three main characters: Kidane is a soldier in Selassie's army; Aster is his wife, who married him as a child and resents him to this day; and Hirut is their servant, an orphan who ends up becoming something more when her cruel employers drive her to desperation.

Friends and neighbors, I wanted to love this
Oct 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
4.5s. Wow!! So let me just start by saying this: Maaza Mengiste is an INCREDIBLY talented writer! The Shadow King is set during the second war between Italy & Ethiopia in 1935. The first war between the two countries occurred in 1895 & when Italy lost it was hugely embarrassing, not only because it was the first loss by a European nation to an African country, but also because it left Ethiopia the only African nation, in the Horn of Africa, not under European rule at the time. In 1935 ...more
Oct 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
I love a good story, especially when it’s wrapped inside an historical novel. Novelists, please transport me to another place, another time so that I can momentarily forget the United States of 2019. Fortunately, the past two years have brought several excellent historical novels. For me, the very best among them are Edward Carey’s Little, Daniel Mason’s The Winter Soldier, Stella Tillyard’s The Great Level, and Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys; Maaza Mengiste’s The Shadow King belongs on this ...more
Nov 23, 2019 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Roman Clodia
Nov 23, 2019 rated it liked it
This is undoubtedly epic in scope and intention but I sadly found it slow and oddly uninvolving. It takes a long time for the story outlined in the blurb to emerge and I thought there would be more attention to women in war than there actually is. Mengiste's prose is packed with similes: some will find it lyrical, others a bit tiresome - a well-placed image, for me, is more memorable than a host on every page.

I like the sophisticated narrative style that shifts to include a chorus of voices,
Never Without a Book
This book is brilliant. The writing phenomenal. You got to read this.
Ray Foy
Aug 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a brilliant book, both in the writing and its literary construction. The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste is, at the surface level, historical fiction set mostly in the 1935-1936 period in Ethiopia when Mussolini’s Italy invaded. It is a character study in that it follows the motivations, sorrows, and ambitions of people on both sides of the conflict. Insomuch as it shows their mental and spiritual flip-flopping as they struggle with events, it is a morality play. The story-lines for these ...more
Ann Marie (Lit·Wit·Wine·Dine)
I'm putting this one down for now. It's beautifully written but I've read about 25% and it's not moving fast enough for me. I don't find myself looking forward to picking it up each time I try. It's time for me to move on. I may go back to it at some point and would not discourage others from giving it a go.
Jun 20, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
420+ pages of what is essentially the history of Ethiopia and its wars. The characters were not compelling except for Ettore aka Foto. He was a conflicted young man in a war not of his choosing. I almost gave up after the first 200 pages but try not to drop a book because it may be 'difficult' this case because of my scant knowledge of Ethiopian history. Much of the story seemed to me to be part of a fantasy novel....particularly the ending.
I was so excited when I saw that Maaza Mengiste’s new novel was coming out this year! After devouring Beneath The Lion’s Gaze last year, and falling in love with the beautiful writing, I was really excited to jump into The Shadow King. And The Shadow King broke my heart just as much as Beneath The Lion’s Gaze did… If not more. Maaza Mengiste is both poet and storyteller, and in my opinion her words should be read by all. The historical fiction market is literally saturated with the same overdone ...more
Nov 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: africa, ethiopia
This is a great book. It is set during and after Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 and describes graphically but in often breathtakingly beautiful language how vicious the war that followed was. Many of the most important and most interesting characters are Abyssinian women. Though there are lots of reasons to bemoan the lot of these women there are also opportunities to cheer them on.

The book takes a while to read (well, Salman Rushdie says he read it in two days, but he is Salman
Nov 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
I first heard about this author when her debut novel Beneath the Lions Gaze was published to rave reviews. It remains a favorite of mine and I recommend it often. This new novel got praise from the NYT but surprisingly to me did not make the bestseller list. I guess maybe reading about the Ethiopian War against the Italians in 1935 is not compelling enough for some. But believe me, in the hands of this gifted writer Maaza Mengiste you will keep reading and marvel at how beautiful her prose is, I ...more
Sep 29, 2019 marked it as someday-elsewhere
Not for me, I don't think, but if I ever need HF for a challenge....
Also, I bet many of you, my friends, would be interested.
Stacie C
Jul 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019, black-authors
To put this simply, The Shadow King, is a really well written book that explores the history of the war that took place between Ethiopia and Italy in the 1930s. It tells the story of the women who fought the war, the challenges they faced, the struggle of the Ethiopian people during that time and the Italian colonel who forced innocent people off a cliff. The story begins at the end with Hirut in the 1970s waiting to meet Ettore. She has something that belongs to him and he has been looking for ...more
Joshunda Sanders
Nov 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
I want to give this 4.5 stars because of the author’s talent for narrative, the rich characters and the importance of the story. There is lyricism here that sweeps you away. That quality makes the text sing and it is such a beautiful sound. There is a grounding in time and space that didn’t really take hold for me. But it was fascinating and inspirational nonetheless.
Oct 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
I found this book to be almost like a meditation or a dream, regardless of the deaths, the killing, the war. Although I knew about this war I didn't know anything about it. Now I know it to be a war where women were warriors as well....and, like so much of life, their stories were blotted out by the stories of men. How much is forgotten or forgiven after the brutality of such a war?
Christina Farr-Thompson
Sep 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
oh my gosh! Amazing book! Read it!
Susan Zinner
Nov 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
In my mostly white, middle class upbringing, I had a classmate from Ethiopia who attended my high school and small college. She was charming with a kind of goofy sense of humor. The one memory that stands out is an undergrad political science class where our professor mentioned Mussolini and this student made a kind of hissing sound. I still remember the look of shock on his face and then he acknowledged that Italy was incredibly harsh to the citizens of Ethiopia. (And keep in mind that this ...more
Brian Wraight
Oct 08, 2019 rated it did not like it
DNF. I tried, I really did, but after 134 pages I had to throw in the towel. The Shadow King is overwrought, bloated with strained metaphors, and packed with way too many characters, which is too bad because the premise is great and the true story that inspired it is one that begs to be told.
This extraordinary novel sounds like it's going to be the next bestseller. It has so much meaning to it it's indescribable. I seriously need this book in my life.
Jul 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019-mt-bookpile
I went to high school with a member of the Selassie family and my uncle worked in Addis Ababa for a few years, so Ethiopian history has always been of interest to me. Beneath the Lion's Gaze was a look at the end of the reign of Haile Selassie and the start of the Derg's rule. This book has a younger Selassie dealing with the second war with Italy and follows an imagined general, the general's wife and several slaves as well as an Italian general and photographer. The life of the women is ...more
Oct 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
This review originally appeared on the book review blog: Just One More Pa(i)ge.

This book was neither on my radar nor my TBR until just a few weeks ago, when one of my fellow bookstagrammers, @beingabookwyrm, started the hashtag #READETHIOPIAN, so spread awareness of books by Ethiopian authors. And literally the day after I saw her post about this book, it was on the new book shelf as I was browsing at my library. So, I threw by TBR up-nexts out the window and grabbed this one instead.

The Shadow
Jun 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
I wish I could say that I loved this book because the subject matter is something we should be aware of, but I didn't love it. Maaza Mengiste's writing is full of detail and poetic descriptions, however the descriptions were often so violent and horrific that it was hard to keep reading. I had almost no awareness of the Ethiopian vs Italian part of WWII and I'm glad I read the book since it gave me new information. I wish that she had been a bit more straightforward with the plot - jumping from ...more
Nov 01, 2019 rated it liked it
From reading “THE SHADOW KING”, I developed an ambivalence about it that is hard to explain. Nevertheless, I will try to do so. The novel is set in Ethiopia during 2 critical periods in its history. It begins in 1974 as the country totters on the brink of revolution amid student protests and the scourge of drought in much of the countryside.

One of the main characters in “THE SHADOW KING” is Hirut, a quiet yet strong and resolute woman, who, in her youth had led a humble existence as a servant
Jenny Yates
Nov 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a brilliant, beautifully-written historical novel. It’s not always easy to read, because it’s about a war, and there’s great violence and cruelty throughout the book.

The setting is the second Italian-Ethiopian War, in 1935. The book begins with a few shadowy hints that the war is coming. Hirut is a servant in the household of Kidane, a military officer, and his haughty wife Aster. Hirut is humble and dutiful, but she constantly reminds herself of who she is – a beloved daughter, born in
Shari Wampler
Nov 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019, favorites
The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste
424 pages

What’s it about?
This novel begins and ends in Ethiopia in 1974, but the majority of the story takes place in 1935 as Italy invades Ethiopia. The novel centers around Hirut. Hirut is a newly orphaned servant girl living in the home of aristocrats Kidane and Aster. She is taken in as a servant after her parents are killed. Her relationship with each of her employers will shift and change throughout the novel. Another central
Oct 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: giveaways
I had a hard time deciding how to review this book. It is unlike any book I have read before and I went through periods of enjoying the book to not enjoying it.

Hirut is a young woman in Ethiopia who lives through the Italian invasion of Ethiopia during the second world war. The reader is shown what the Ethiopian people experienced during the invasion and the troubles of Ethiopians lives outside of the war. Poverty, rape and violence are just some hardships touched on in The Shadow King. Hirut
Sep 03, 2019 rated it it was ok
Won a copy of this from Goodreads First Reads program. Although I can't really say I disliked this book, I had a really hard time getting into it. Part of it is the language, which is complex. I'd like to include some examples of my point, but as this is an ARC, that's not really allowed. One of the biggest issues I had was the author's decision not to use quotation marks when characters speak. This causes me as a reader to slow down as I tried to figure out whether someone was speaking or ...more
Nov 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Utterly enthralling novel of the invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 by Mussolini's fascist army, which lasted until 1941. The novel details how bands of guerrillas fight the Italian soldiers, concentrating on two "women warriors": Hirut and Aster. The emperor Haile Selassie is in exile in England, but to boost morale, Hirut seizes on the idea of a "shadow emperor": a simple peasant posing as the emperor to put heart into the Ethiopian soldiers that their emperor is with them leading them to victory. ...more
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Maaza Mengiste is a novelist and essayist. Her debut novel, Beneath the Lion’s Gaze, was selected by the Guardian as one of the 10 best contemporary African books and named one of the best books of 2010 by Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe and other publications. Her fiction and nonfiction can be found in The New Yorker, Granta, the Guardian, the New York Times, BBC Radio,and Lettre ...more