Martin's Must Reads: 'The Shadow King'
“She has watched while a parade of young women, raising fists and rifles, marched past the bus taking her to Bahir Dar. They stared at her an aging woman in her long drab dress, as if they did not know those who came before them. As if this were the first time a woman carried a gun.”
I’m Betty Martin and those words are from the Prologue to Maaza Mengiste’s historical novel The Shadow King. The “she” refers to Hirut and the first time a woman carried a gun refers to when Hirut as a servant and her mistress, Aster, take up weapons to protect their homeland Ethiopia from Mussolini’s Italian invasion in 1935.
The Italian troops arrive in Ethiopia to claim the land for their own and kill thousands of Ethiopians by gunfire, poisonous gas and by pushing them off a cliff. Without a sufficient supply of guns, the Ethiopians are doomed and many give up including the Emperor Haile Selassie who escapes with his family to Bath, England.
Aster, the soldier commander’s wife, vows to fight along side her husband and recruits women to make more bullets from empty shell casings. Just as defeat seems imminent, Hirut notices that one of the soldiers has a striking resemblance to the emperor and they dress him up and parade him in front of the Ethiopians to give them the courage to fight on. This shadow king is guarded by two women, Hirut and Aster, dressed as soldiers.
If you’re looking for a rich, lyrically written story about strong women, then you must read The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste.