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Notes from the Hyena's Belly: An Ethiopian Boyhoodby Nega Mezlekia
Governor General's Award (Canada)
Synopses & Reviews
In a narrative sparkling with wit, Nega Mezlekia recalls his boyhood in Jijiga, Ethiopia during the fall of Emperor Selassie, and his bold journey to manhood during the rise to power of the communist Junta whose merciless Red Terror slaughtered 100,000 Ethiopian youths. Out of this sundrenched land where modern corruption rides ancient custom like a predator, Mezlekia crafts a world elegant in its aridity, extreme in its absurdity, and vast in its ironies.
"Mezlekia has summoned, with imaginative directness and impressive tonal range, a world of uncertainty in which politics is never just background but permeates ordinary life - indeed, prevents it from ever being ordinary. He has produced the most riveting book about Ethiopia since Ryszard Kapuscinski's literary allegory The Emperor and the most distinguished African literary memoir since Soyinka's Ake appeared 20 years ago." New York Times Book Review
Winner of the Governor General's Award
A Library Journal Best Book of 2001
Part autobiography and part social history, Notes from the Hyena's Belly offers an unforgettable portrait of Ethiopia, and of Africa, during the 1970s and '80s, an era of civil war, widespread famine, and mass execution. "We children lived like the donkey," Mezlekia remembers, "careful not to wander off the beaten trail and end up in the hyena's belly." His memoir sheds light not only on the violence and disorder that beset his native country, but on the rich spiritual and cultural life of Ethiopia itself. Throughout, he portrays the careful divisions in dress, language, and culture between the Muslims and Christians of the Ethiopian landscape. Mezlekia also explores the struggle between western European interests and communist influences that caused the collapse of Ethiopia's social and political structure—and that forced him, at age 18, to join a guerrilla army. Through droughts, floods, imprisonment, and killing sprees at the hands of military juntas, Mezlekia survived, eventually emigrating to Canada. In Notes from the Hyena's Belly he bears witness to a time and place that few Westerners have understood.
In this powerful memoir, Nega Mezlekia recalls in vivid detail his boyhood in the arid city of Jijiga, Ethiopia, and his bold journey to manhood during the 1970s and 1980s, his country's most turbulent period. In a narrative that sparkles with wit, Mezlekia traces his personal evolution from child to soldier. We meet Wondwossen, his best friend and collaborator in mischief; Mr. Alula, their embattled teacher; Mr. Tadesse, full-time school director and part-time poacher; Ms. Yetaferu, the Orthodox Christian boarder who manages to find a saint to worship each day of the year and thus to avoid gainful employment; and Yeneta, the local priest who is privy to the languages of heaven and hell.
Mezlekia describes the hardships that consumed Ethiopia after the fall of Emperor Haile Selassie and the rise to power of the communist junta, whose merciless Red Terror slaughtered 100,000 Ethiopian youths. Mezlekia himself was forced, at the age of eighteen, to join a guerilla army, and had several brushes with death at the hands of reactionary exorcists, but he somehow survived the bloodbath.
Notes from the Hyena's Belly teems with the smells, sights and sounds of life in the Horn of Africa-its violent, ingenious humans and its underworld of screeching monkeys, lions and hyenas. Part autobiography and part social history, this is an unforgettable portrait of a world where the boundaries of credulity are challenged daily. Out of this rich, sundrenched land where modern corruption rides ancient custom like a predator, Mezlekia crafts a world elegant in its aridity, extreme in its absurdity and vast in its ironies.
About the Author
Nega Mezlekia is the author of Notes from the Hyena's Belly, winner of the Governor General's Award, and a novel, The God Who Begat a Jackal. He left Ethiopia in 1983 and is now an engineer living in Toronto.
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