Set in 1959 Ethiopia, this deeply allegorical sequel to Desta and King Solomon’s Coin of Magic and Fortune (2010) continues the story of a barefoot shepherd boy’s heroic search for an ancestral coin that is identical to the one his father possesses.
A palatable tale for readers of all ages, this story follows 10-year-old Desta as he leaves his remote home in Yeedib, in the highlands in west-central Ethiopia. He’s pursuing two potentially life-changing goals: get an education and fulfill a prophecy, revealed to him by his grandfather’s spirit, that involves a boy uniting the two magical coins made by King Solomon nearly 3,000 years ago as gifts for the descendants of his two children. Against the backdrop of a largely agrarian, uneducated country struggling to move itself into the modern world, Desta is in many ways the personification of his nation. Living with relatives in order to go to school, he quickly becomes well-versed in the evils of humankind and the sometimes-unbearable agony of existence. His loving aunt and uncle, with whom he is staying, are tragically killed in a bus accident, and his new benefactors end up starving and abusing him. To make matters worse for the young boy, his coldhearted mother all but disowns him upon hearing rumors that he has befriended Muslims. The richly described setting of midcentury Ethiopia is simply stunning in terms of both natural environments as well as political and societal complexities. The character of Desta is well-developed and endearing, and a powerful dualistic symbolism—love and hate, male and female, ignorance and wisdom, etc.—runs throughout. At times, however, the narrative flow can be lethargic to the point of being serpentine, and some major plot threads—such as one involving the celestial being Eleni—are disregarded for long stretches. But perhaps most disappointing is the anticlimactic ending, which isn’t so much a conclusion as a respite until the series’ next installment.
Breathtaking locales and powerful themes in a flawed but edifying read.