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I have mixed feelings about The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste. On the one hand I thoroughly enjoyed the exquisite lyrical prose of Mengiste’s writing, which roped me into the story almost from the very beginning. She is able to express seemingly indescribable feelings and emotions with rare finesse and delicacy. For example, her description of Aster’s feelings as a young woman losing her virginity on her wedding night was gripping – capturing her fear and stubborn determination to flee. Equally captivating was her account of the protagonist, Hirut’s grit and stoic resistance when she was as a prisoner subjected to crude objectification by her Italian captors. On the other hand I found some aspects of the narrative jarring and at times superfluous, which slightly diminished my enthusiasm to read further. In particular, the repeated graphic rape scenes, in which Hirut is repeatedly violated by her married, master turned Ethiopian freedom fighting general, disturbing and unnecessary to the narrative. From my perspective a single account of such an incident would have sufficed. In a similar vein, the end of the story came across somewhat belabored and unrealistic. I felt as if I had to push myself to finish The Shadow King since the narrative seemed to drag on unnaturally longer than it needed to. And the ending, was anticlimactic and too fantastic to satiate me after making it so far. I had expected to be rewarded with more of Mengiste’s sublime prose and beautiful imagination. Overall, I enjoyed The Shadow King and would recommend it to others without reservation, especially if you are looking to discover contemporary African writers.

Have you read The Shadow King or another of Maaza Mengiste’s novels and essays? What captivates you most about her writing? Please feel free to share your thoughts in a comment below. Thanks as always for visiting my blog! Also, if you would like to receive more updates about my writing please consider joining my newsletter mailing list by subscribing below.

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