Tales of the Ethiopian resistance during the Italian occupation haunt an extended family in this intricately woven debut novel by Ghermandi, who was born in Ethiopia and lives in Italy.
As a young girl in Debre Zeit, Ethiopia, in the 1980s, Mahlet, the youngest of five children, receives a special instruction from her favorite elder, Yacob, once a warrior for the Ethiopian resistance, to “take our stories to the land of the Italians” and “be the voice of our history that doesn’t want to be forgotten.” Two years later, on the verge of adolescence, a now-rebellious Mahlet forgets her promise to her beloved Yacob. “Something in me had tossed it into the corner of the room of my memory. Well concealed. In an invisible and untraceable trunk buried under a pile of odds and ends.” Later, as a young adult living in Addis Ababa, Mahlet becomes drawn to the stories of fellow Ethiopians who confess their triumphs and losses during the occupation. It is only then that Mahlet realizes her life’s purpose. Ghermandi’s patient, rhapsodic compilation reflects Mahlet’s own struggle with her identity as an Ethiopian and, when she relocates to Italy for her education, as a foreigner. The prose blends Italian and Amharic honorifics seamlessly, and the author’s complex study of family life during the Italian colonization, the military junta headed by violent dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam and the chaos following liberation in 1991 shape Mahlet’s understanding of the bonds between generations and the connections between the past and the present.
This singular coming-of-age story defined by political upheaval and ancestral secrets introduces a sensitive, perceptive storyteller on the brink of womanhood.