The Shadow King is an expertly written, meaty and sublime novel about the Italian invasion of Ethiopia during World War II. It is a complex novel that flows with ease while exploring hard subjects - slavery, rape, gender dynamics, racism and, of course, the horrors of war. You will find yourself reading sentences twice for the sheer beauty of them, and to wade deeper into the layered meanings of Mengiste's world. The characters are fantastic and ring true. Highly recommended.
Shortlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize, and named a best book of the year by the New York Times, NPR, Elle, Time, and more, The Shadow King is an “unforgettable epic from an immensely talented author who’s unafraid to take risks” (Michael Schaub, NPR).
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. At its heart is orphaned maid Hirut, who finds herself tumbling into a new world of thefts and violations, of betrayals and overwhelming rage. What follows is a heartrending and unputdownable exploration of what it means to be a woman at war.
About the Author
Born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Maaza Mengiste received a 2020 Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Also a Fulbright Scholar and a professor at Queens College, she is the author of The Shadow King and Beneath the Lion’s Gaze, and a 2018 recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. She lives in New York City.
Lyrical, remarkable. — New York Times Book Review, Editors’ Choice
Capacious.… adopts the register of myth to shape an epic of nationhood and resistance. — The New Yorker
Unforgettable.… [A] propulsive read that captures a historical moment from a fresh perspective. — Time
[The Shadow King] is written in a key of pride and exaltation, and its characters have the outsize form of national heroes.… Stirring.
— Sam Sacks - Wall Street Journal
In haunting and beautiful prose, Mengiste shines a light on those whose lives are not often heralded. — Newsweek
Ambitious and illuminating. — Elizabeth Sile - Real Simple
A beautiful and thoughtful epic. — Francesca Capossela - Los Angeles Review of Books
Stunning.… [Mengiste] produced a work of fiction that is epic in reach, with brilliant borrowings from the forms of classic tragedy.… The book is impossible to put down or put out of mind. — BookPage (starred review)
The Shadow King exposes a brutal chapter in Ethiopia’s history and urges readers to listen for the untold stories of war, especially those of women.
— Katie Noah Gibson - Shelf Awareness
Monumental.… Mengiste’s extraordinary characters—shrewd Kidane, militant Aster, the enigmatic cook, narcissistic Italian commander Fucelli, conflicted photographer Ettore, elusive prostitute Fifi, even haunted Selassie—epitomize the impossibly intricate ties between humanity and monstrosity, and the unthinkable, immeasurable cost of survival. — Booklist (starred review)