Maaza Mengiste Portrait
© Hartwig Klappert

Guest 2017.


Unter den Augen des Löwen

Verlag das Wunderhorn

Heidelberg, 2013

[Ü: Andreas Jandl]

Maaza Mengiste [ Ethiopia, USA ]

The Ethiopian-American novelist Maaza Mengiste was born in 1971 in Addis Ababa. She was still an infant when she fled Ethiopia with her mother during the Communist Revolution, and lived in Lagos and Nairobi before settling in the United States. They first arrived in Colorado, where her mother abandoned her only a few days later. She grew up in a refugee camp with a group of Libyans who had fled the Gaddafi regime. She studied creative writing at New York University, from where she graduated with a master of fine arts.

Her first novel »Beneath the Lion’s Gaze« was published in 2010. The story is told from the perspective of one middle-class family and opens during the days of the coup in Ethiopia in 1974. The paterfamilias, a doctor from Addis Ababa, tries to protect his family during these times of unrest. Yet while his older son behaves sensibly, his younger son takes part in student protests against Emperor Haile Selassie and his regime. The second part of the novel takes place a few years later; the coup has ushered in a socialist military dictatorship, where the execution of dissidents, expropriation, and house arrests are commonplace. Here too, each of the men in this family reacts differently towards the political situation: the oldest son adapts, once again, the younger one, however, goes underground. The father is finally sentenced to prison for letting a torture victim die, from whom the regime was hoping to extract important information. With great clarity and while only allowing herself the occasional surrealistic reverie, Mengiste compellingly describes the unfolding of events during this gruesome chapter in Ethiopian history. »Beneath the Lion’s Gaze« was selected by »The Guardian« as one of the 10 best contemporary African books, and was a Dayton Literary Peace Prize Fiction Runner-up. Mengiste’s second novel, a work-in-progress titled »The Shadow Kind«, will be set during the Second World War and the Italian Fascist invasion and occupation of Ethiopia.

Maaza Mengiste is a visiting professor of creative writing at Queens College, City University of New York, as well as a former lecturer in creative writing at the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University. Mengiste also regularly writes about Ethiopia and the revolution, human rights and problems of migration for various American newspapers and magazines. She is also on the board of the children’s aid organization Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. She lives in New York City.