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Category Archive for 'Ethiopia'

In Dark Star Safari (2002), author Paul Theroux travels along Africa’s east coast from Egypt to South Africa, through Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, and other countries. Though he begins his trip full of hope, he discovers that life on Africa’s east coast, as seen here in 2002, is not what he remembered from his Peace Corps days. Then he had been a volunteer in Malawi and a teacher in Uganda, leaving the country just as Idi Amin came to power. Despite the political upheavals of the 1960′s, his memories of Africa during that time are good ones. In 2002, approaching his sixtieth birthday, he is determined to travel from Cairo to Cape Town, believing that the continent “contain[s] many untold tales and some hope and comedy and sweetness, too,” and that there is “more to Africa than misery and terror,” something he aims to discover as he “wander[s] the antique hinterland.”

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Maaza Mengiste’s remarkable debut novel, set in her home country of Ethiopia in 1974, brings to life the historical period from the assassination of Emperor Haile Selassie through the communist revolution and the subsequent resistance movement which followed shortly on its heels. A well-publicized 1974 television documentary, showing the educated Ethiopian public the horrors of famine, in which 200,000 people died in the remote areas of their country, juxtaposed against films of the wasteful excesses of palace functions, set the country up for revolution. As all the characters gradually become drawn into the larger political conflicts of the country, the reader is shocked by the extreme cruelty, both physical and emotional, of whoever is in power. The violence, which increases in intensity over the course of three hundred pages, involves false arrests, beatings, rapes, psychological warfare, brutal tortures in an effort to extract sometimes non-existent information, and the mutilation of women and children–very difficult to read for the length of the novel.

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“As soon as there’s a bomb, an earthquake…or a riot, I call the travel agent,” Tahir Shah says, explaining his thirst for adventure. In this account he searches for King Solomon’s legendary gold mines, armed with books and research he acquired in preparation for his trip and a “treasure map” he purchased in Jerusalem. King Solomon had built a lavishly appointed temple there three thousand years ago, using gold which the Queen of Sheba had brought from Ophir. No one knows from what direction she came or where the legendary Ophir actually was, however, with different researchers claiming that it was in Zimbabwe, South Africa, or even Haiti or Peru. Tahir Shah is determine to find out.

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