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The Shadow King

Narrated by: Robin Miles
Length: 16 hrs and 11 mins
4 out of 5 stars (16 ratings)

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Summary

Shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2020.

A Times Audiobook of the Week.

Ethiopia, 1935.

With the threat of Mussolini's army looming, recently orphaned Hirut struggles to adapt to her new life as a maid. Her new employer, Kidane, an officer in Emperor Haile Selassie's army, rushes to mobilise his strongest men before the Italians invade.

Hirut and the other women long to do more than care for the wounded and bury the dead. When Emperor Haile Selassie goes into exile and Ethiopia quickly loses hope, it is Hirut who offers a plan to maintain morale. But how could she have predicted her own personal war, still to come, as a prisoner of one of Italy's most vicious officers?

©2020 Maaza Mengiste (P)2020 Canongate Books Ltd

Critic reviews

"Beautiful and devastating." (Marlon James)

"Unforgettably conveyed by the narrator Robin Miles, whose upbringing in the ethnic melting pot of New Jersey has enhanced her gift for entering into character...the listener never feels lost, only more deeply involved. It is easily the best title on the Booker 2020 longlist." (Christina Hardyment, The Times)

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A gun that has tasted blood wants more...

I chose this because it looked like the most interesting story on the Booker longlist - and I wasn't disappointed. Like Kate Grenville, the author takes inspiration from some family history to tell the incredible story of female soldiers in Ethiopia. There's some cracking lines about dealing with colonialisation, a few of my favourites were: 'Make living your first act of defiance' and 'Only soil will remember who we are. Nothing but earth is strong enough to withstand the burden of memory'. Reading is about temporarily escaping the cosy rut of your own existence and seeing the world through someone else's eyes. I knew nothing about Ethiopia in the 1930s but I do now. This is also a very topical book in terms of unheard stories and perspectives.

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It is an achievement....

to listen this book to the end. I selected this novel as it was about a time in our recent history that is not often spoken of or taught in England and the book has been is on the Man Booker Shortlist and I always try to read as many of the books nominated as possible. My overwhelming feeling during reading was it may not be the best book to convert to audio and if so then needed to be edited more closely.
The story doesn’t get going until the second third but until you get to that stage there is a mishmash of characters, a Chorus, real and fictional figures to try and juggle on top of a vocabulary that is unfamiliar. A PDF annexe to accompany the book as other authors have provided would have helped keep track of it all. I hate leaving a negative review of what is clearly a very important and personal story which should be told, but it certainly made the listener/ reader work to get there. That said given the scope and scale it may just was the Booker Prize judges are looking for.