Beneath the Lion's Gaze is a political historical fiction novel set in Ethiopia between 1974 Ethiopian Revolution and the late eighties, I guess. It was difficult to tell because the novel ended in a sort of cliffhanger that I was asking myself if the family mentioned survived the war or not. Obviously, at the end of the novel it is understood that the war hasn't ended yet.
To begin with, in Ethiopia, before the year 1974, existed a Solomonic Monarchy, of which, Haile Selassie was the emperor. He was very well loved and admired far and away until famine struck the north-eastern part of his country in 1974 and did away with the lives of over two hundred thousand people. Meanwhile, the emperor was enjoying an affluent life style in his prestigious palace, for this reason, his citizens rebelled against him. They were mad with grief, mainly students, they protested and his popularity fell to the ground. Consequently, the military, took advantage of the upheaval and overthrew him. Most of the Ethiopians, I believe, thought his arrest will put an end to the blatant social inequality and classism of that time. However, the worse was yet to come.
Next, military took over the country, backed up mainly by the Soviet and Cuban Communist who supplied them with ammunition to kill themselves. As was expected, Emperor Haile Selassie was imprisoned and later on murdered.
Inevitably, with the military rule came dictatorship and reign of terror. In fact, they declared death to counter-revolutionaries, murdered mercilessly and threw dead bodies to the hyenas. Moreover, to show a hint of compassion they made families pay the wasted bullet tax before they could collect the corpse of their loved ones and mourn for them. Henceforth, began a bloody war.
Beneath the Lion's Gaze narrates the terrifying ordeal of an Ethiopian family in the throes of a civil war with their life in dire straits. Evidently, in this novel, Maaza Mengiste was doing homage to the civil war victims.
Furthermore, reading this book helped me acquire a reasonable knowledge on the history of Imperial Ethiopia, of which, I knew nothing about, until now. I was also introduced to Mengiste Haile Mariam the military head of state during the war. What baffles me above all is that he is still alive and kicking with his household in Zimbabwe where he sought asylum, despite the fact he is suppose to be extradited to face his death sentence in his home country where he is accused of mass murder. As a matter of fact he authorised most of the massacre.
Finally, I wouldn't say this was a spellbound read; nonetheless, it is a skillful written debut novel I read with no trouble! Do not take notice of the book cover. As far as I am concerned, it does not do the novel justice. I recommend this book to adults and lovers of history and politics.
On a side note, this is one of the novels I suggested to the library. I am glad they bought it.