Oduu Haaraya

This novel illuminates life (and resistance) under repression in Ethiopia

Last weekend thousands of people protested in Gondar, a major city in northern Ethiopia. The protest follows anti-government demonstrations in July that ended in violence in which at least 10 people died.

Protests in Ethiopia’s south-central Oromia region have been ongoing since November 2015. A recent report by Human Rights Watch details excessive and lethal force by state security forces in response to the Oromo protests, estimating that more than 400 people have been killed and thousands more injured and arrested.

The lack of media freedom in Ethiopia makes it difficult to get a handle on what is happening. Although social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter offer insights from citizen journalists, the Ethiopian government recentlycracked down on social media, limiting it as a forum that informed the broader global community.

Can a work of historical fiction shed some light on the current events in Ethiopia?

In this week’s installment of the African Politics Summer Reading Spectacular, we feature a novel for the first time. Why fiction when there’s plenty of informative — even riveting — non-fictional accounts of African politics? We took a cue from fellow Monkey Cage blogger Marc Lynch, whose annual “summer beach reads” list on Middle East politics had three (!!!) novels this year.

Historical fiction can be instrumental in reimagining fractured histories. In their exploration of history and culture, works like Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “Half of a Yellow Sun” blur the lines of what is “true” and “factual.” Even as fictive accounts, these works act as historical and anthropological references.

Our feature for this week, Gabriella Ghermandi’s “Queen of Flowers and Pearls,” continues this tradition. Ghermandi brings to print a novel that weaves individual memories of the Italian occupation of Ethiopia into collective history. (The novel was originally published in Italian in 2007. An English translation by Giovanna Bellesia and Victoria Offredi Poletto was published in 2015.)

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