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Beneath the Lion's Gaze

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  2,444 ratings  ·  377 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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Average rating 3.91  · 
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 ·  2,444 ratings  ·  377 reviews

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Jim Fonseca
Aug 18, 2017 rated it liked it
This novel is set in Ethiopia’s capital city, Addis Ababa, in the late 1970’s. It’s the last days of Christian Emperor Haile Selassie who successfully led the fight against Mussolini’s soldiers - spears vs. tanks. Ethiopia today is still two-thirds Christian (Coptic) and one-third Moslem. But now a military takeover has occurred and the communists are in power, a group known as the Derg. Cuba, East Germany, USSR and North Korea become their allies, sending financial and military aid.


At first th
May 28, 2012 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
Abbie | ab_reads
Ethiopia, 1974. The country is on the cusp of a revolution that will overthrow the monarchy and see the Derg take power, a communist military group. The successive years saw hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians killed under the regime, either from brutal torture and execution or famine, from leaders who promised a better Ethiopia for everybody.
I love it when authors of historical fiction create a fictional family to contextualise historic events. Living the events through the eyes of a fictional
Ethiopian Emperor Selassie's rule, with all its flaws, injustices and decadence, was smashed into pieces by a fanatical new regime in the 1970s, providing the setting for Maaza Mengiste's debut. At the center of the story is a surgeon, Hailu, and his two sons - Yonas, a reflective realist, and Dawit, an impulsive idealist. In ‘Beneath The Lion’s Gaze’ Mengiste gave us a story about a family, and a nation, at war with itself.

There’s lots to admire in Mengiste’s writing. She manages to dance betwe
Mwalimu Oduol
Jan 20, 2013 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
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
Jan 05, 2012 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.
Feb 14, 2010 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
Oct 11, 2019 rated it liked it
I heard about this on a recent podcast and it came in the same day I submitted the request at the library. While it is extremely difficult read (due to the brutality and topics) it was important and I learned a lot about recent Ethiopian history. Much to ponder about acts of corporal mercy, faith, revolutions, society, and family. ...more
Emily Vanderwerff
Sep 12, 2010 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
Mar 22, 2010 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 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Mengiste writes skillfully, her words gliding over allusions to god, war, magic, dreams, and hopelessness, all on one page. While I would say the book is a bit slow to pick up, I feel-- in slight agreement with the Guardian's review on the back cover of the paperback edition published by Vintage-- that that's because she works hard to describe the Ethiopia of the 1970s while also fleshing out her wide range of characters, giving us insights into their fears, prayers and emotions. I also think th ...more
Mar 03, 2011 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
Oct 31, 2014 rated it really liked it
I struggled to read this book immensely. I tried to imagine Addis in those Red Terror days, Entotto, Meskel Square, Churchill Avenue, bodies scattered by the regime. The Red Terror museum now stands in the middle of Addis free of charge for all to see what Mengistu - still alive and unscathed in Zim - did to his own people. And in this museum hundreds of ID photos stare back at you from the walls, portraying the young and beautiful faces of the Ethiopians who died at the hands of one of their ow ...more
Marcy prager
Aug 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I have not read a better book in a very long time! This novel is about the Ethiopian revolution. It takes place in Addis Ababa in 1974. Hailu is a prominent doctor. His wife is dying in his hospital, his son, Dawit, is an angry student revolutionary who attends rallies and hands out pamphlets in an effort to make Ethiopia a better place. Millions of people have died from famine while the emperor lives in a palace and his soldiers eat like kings. It has been promised by a military coup that once ...more
"BENEATH THE LION'S GAZE" tells a story of a family caught up in the full fury of a political revolution that took place in Ethiopia in 1974.

In reading this novel, there were parallels between the overthrow of the Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia and the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789. Both countries on the eve of revolution suffered from failed harvests and simmering internal dissent. In Ethiopia's case, a group of military officers formed a collective known as the Derg and forced
Zaynäb Book  Minimalist
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.

Muthoni Muiruri
Feb 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In the scramble to colonise Africa, Italy invaded Ethiopia and managed to occupy the country for 5 years before they were defeated (Oh Hail Ethiopia!). The Solomonic Dynasty managed to wade them off propelling Haile Selassie to Emperor, King of Kings, the Lion of Judah and the Messiah of the Rastafarians, God incarnate.

Haile Selassie ruled for 60yrs before he was overthrown in 1974 by the Derg - a Marxist-Leninist socialist militaristic government - and this is where the novel opens. In his last
Apr 18, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
quick thoughts: a book with lyrical prose that paid off the more pages I read, despite the fact that the book, in my opinion, stopped instead of ending. which is to say the ending was abrupt and didn't seem to be the right place for the reader to part ways with the characters.
Smitha Murthy
A beautiful retelling of a turbulent period in Ethiopia’s past, I don’t know why I hadn’t read this book earlier. What made this book even more special was that I was able to listen or rather a friend’s experiences who happened to be in Ethiopia at the same time! ‘Beneath the Lion’s Gaze’ is not just a historical novel, though, but a powerful retelling of the story of the family as we all struggle with - love, betrayal, forgiveness, darkness, and hope. Some hope at the end of it all.
“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
Apr 12, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: reading_africa
I want to like this book, but I think Half of a Yellow Sun ruined me...
I wanted to like this, and the first book was good, but in the second book, as we shift from the close family drama to the broader political scene the characters seem stiff and cliché to me. Historically this is interesting, but I think I'm strugling with two things: 1) I'm not really into "historical family drama"-novels 2) Sorry to say, but having just read the awesome Half of a Yellow Sun - this just seems like a weak att
Aug 06, 2017 rated it it was ok
In short: The premise of the book is good, the execution I found lacking.
While the book has an intriguing setting during the Ethiopian revolution and the first part sets up the drama to follow quite well, the plot meanders for the last two thirds of the book.
Similarly, the character structure with no clear protagonist but a richly interwoven net of characters mostly from one family who all deal with the horrors of the revolution differently is a great idea, but difficult to pull off, and I felt
Sean Leas
Jun 15, 2016 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.
Mitchell Jackson
Jun 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Another woman who knows her way around a sentence and also a thing or two about history.
Allison Thwaites
Oct 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Updated Review.

Okay, I'm better now :)

If a historical fiction novel makes you want to do more research on the topic, then it's a win. I have to commend this author. She put her heart & soul (and left foot) into this book and you could feel it on every page. The writing was amazing, wonderful story telling.

This is not a happy story. It shows and makes the reader confront man's capacity for for evil and cruelty to one another. Every night I read this book, my heart hurt. While it is a fictionalize
I was given this book by a friend from an Ethiopian decent. We often converse about history and our ancestry, but there was always a block preventing our conversation from going further. She thought this book would help breaking down the block-- and it somewhat did.

Set in 1970’s Ethiopia, a time of great upheaval after the infamous devastating famine many did not know of at the time and the governmental inaction. Student protests escalated to a revolution that overthrew the hereditary monarch.
sssnoo reads
An excellent historical fiction book written about a little know (to Westerners) event in history. The horrific dictatorship following Haile Selasse’s reign in Ethiopia. The Dergue. If people are interested in understanding world cultures and want a change from the dominant WWII fiction pick up this book - or the authors new book. Learn some new history.
Nov 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
I wanted to learn more about Ethiopia before travelling there. A favourite way to learn about a country is to of course read a book about the place, ideally written by an author from that place. This book ticks that box - Mengiste is an Ethiopian-American author, writing about the country of her birth.

If you want to an insight into the Ethiopian Civil War that started in 1974, this is a great place to start. Mengiste explains a lot of her characters are fictional, but the context is real. She t
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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 Internat ...more

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