Bascom, son of missionaries, illuminates the Ethiopia of his childhood in this Bakeless Prize–winning memoir.
After arriving in Addis Ababa as a toddler, Bascom senses the teeming life that surges in the countryside surrounding the capital city. The jarring sounds, intoxicating scents and colorful sights all come alive before him like fireworks. His older brother, Johnathan, is sent off to boarding school at Bingham Academy—the main school for foreign, or ferengi, children and a place that eventually becomes integral to the author’s own experience. In the early years—with his brother absent—young Tim must find his own way. During the day, he follows native housekeeper Marta around as she goes about her chores, and he finds pleasure in watching the exotic wildlife outside his window. A chameleon becomes his personal pet, and their relationship later develops into a central theme here. Bascom, himself a chameleon of sorts, is gifted at assimilation as the scenery changes around him. Whether living in the shadow of Mount Damoto or in a Kansas prairie town, he seems to effortlessly shed the skin of his former life. In Africa, the author and his younger brother Nat dream of taking trips outside their family’s African compound to explore the countryside and smell the eucalyptus, while their father practices medicine and their mother preaches to local women and children. As the memoir progresses, Ethiopian society unfolds before him: He eats injera and wat in a gathering with the Lion of Judah himself, Emperor Haile Selassie, races his beloved horse against a mule belonging to a native missionary and takes cover in the school basement as university students riot. It is that political upheaval that finally forces the family’s return to the States. Along the way, nine-year-old Tim questions his identity as a child of two continents.
A stirring tribute to a turbulent, beautifully evoked era.