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Beneath the Lion's Gaze

by Maaza Mengiste

In this raw, tragic novel, Mengiste jumps with ease between many character viewpoints as she leads us through the final days of Haile Selassie's reign and the beginnings of the Ethiopian revolution. Horrifying, bloody scenes of torture contrast starkly with beautiful, poetic description and sympathetic characters. I knew Ethiopia only in light of the famine before I began, and found myself fascinated by its history thanks to this powerful story.

Extract

He had been a doctor for nearly thirty-five years, treated infections and war wounds with calm efficiency, battled unknown illnesses with cunning and forethought. He knew the sight of a body better left to die on its own, could decipher the clues that spoke to a life still struggling to hold on. But what could have prepared him for a girl wrapped in a clear plastic sheet? What medical book could have taught him that a sheet of plastic as big as a body could dig into wounds like this? That wounds this deep and vicious could be on a young girl? He looked at her again. Clumps of hair had been pulled out of her head. Blood had soaked through her trousers and bright flowered blouse. Her swollen feet hung off one end of the gurney. All of this was covered and displayed in plastic like a butcher's oversized trophy. Seeping out of the opening of the plastic bag was the smell of excrement and burnt flesh, shit and cruelty, a new obscenity.

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