Spotlight: Three Great Reviews of Maaza Mengiste’s New Book by NYT, WSJ & NPR

Maaza Mengiste's latest novel, 'The Shadow King,' has been released. Below is a highlight of three recent reviews of the book by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and NPR. (Photo by Nina Subin)

Tadias Magazine

By Tadias Staff

Published: September 26th, 2019

New York (TADIAS) — Maaza Mengiste’s new book the The Shadow King was released this month to well-deserved praises in national U.S. media. In The New York Times Book Review published today, Namwali Serpell recalls the broader absence of the stories of women warriors and asks “Is that a profound truth or a blind spot?” To her and many of us in the industry Maaza Mengiste’s latest novel breaks the loud silence. “She doesn’t seek a narrow path between the straits of these artistic and ethical questions,” adds Serpell. “Instead, she encompasses them in all their contradiction, laying them out in breathtakingly skillful juxtaposition.”

NPR calls Maaza’s new novel “a gorgeous meditation on memory, war and violence” emphasizing that “the star of the novel, however, is Maaza’s writing, “which makes The Shadow King nearly impossible to put down.”

The idea for the story morphed out of Maaza’s trip to Italy as a Fulbright Fellow where she was able to research documents focusing on the Fascist invasion of Ethiopia during World War II.

Maaza’s book is a “work of reclamation in a number of ways,” notes the Wall Street Journal in their review published last week. “For one thing, the story, which dramatizes the invasion and the tenacious Ethiopian resistance, shines a light on a conflict that has often been forgotten behind the battles of the world war that followed it.” WSJ adds: “Ms. Mengiste furthermore centers on the Ethiopian women who played a vital but almost completely unrecognized role in the insurgency. But most important, “The Shadow King” is not a story about helpless victims of colonial conquest. Against the odds, it is written in a key of pride and exaltation, and its characters have the outsize form of national heroes.”

Maaza’s first novel Beneath the Lion’s Gaze was chosen as one of 10 best contemporary African books by The Guardian, and her writing has been featured in several publications including Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, The New Times, Granta and Guernica. In 2018 Maaza won a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and was a former Fulbright Fellow. She received the Puterbaugh Fellowship in 2013 and was also nominated as a runner-up for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize in 2011. As a writer Maaza worked on the documentary features Girl Rising and The Invisible City: Kakuma. Maaza currently serves as a Board member for the non-profit organizations Words Without Borders and Warscapes.

The Shadow King starts and ends with Hirut, the book’s main character, at a train station in Addis Ababa carrying a metal box. The year was 1974, four decades after the end of the Second Italo-Ethiopian War. “She’s traveled here, the reader is told, ‘to rid herself of the horror that staggers back unbidden,” NPR points out. “She has come to give up the ghosts and drive them away.” She’s awaiting the box’s owner, an Italian photographer she hasn’t seen in decades. “It has taken so long to get here,” Mengiste writes. “It has taken almost forty years of another life to begin to remember who she had once been.”

“Mengiste has a real gift for language; her writing is powerful but never florid, gripping the reader and refusing to let go,” NPR enthused. “And this, combined with her excellent sense of pacing, makes the book one of the most beautiful novels of the year.”

Below are links to the reviews:


Book Talk with Maaza Mengiste and Uzodinma Iweala: The Shadow King
Wednesday, October 2nd, 2019 at 7:30pm
The Africa Center (1280 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10029)

Maaza Mengiste: The Shadow King (w/ Kate Tuttle)
Thursday, October 3rd, 2019 at 7:30pm
Strand Bookstore
828 Broadway at 12th Street, New York, NY 10003

You can learn more about ‘The Shadow King’ and order your copy at

Maaza Mengiste’s Outstanding New Essay on Refugees
Tadias Q & A With Maaza Mengiste

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