The Shadow King

Set in the Second Italo-Ethiopian War, The Shadow King centers Hirut, an orphan living as a servant in the home of Kidane, and his wife, Aster. When Kidane—an officer in Emperor Haile Selassie’s army—moves to resist the invading Italian army, Hirut and Aster are marshaled along to provide support. Both women end up doing a lot more than that, and they suffer great violence as a result. Their story intersects with that of a Jewish photographer, Ettore, brought along with the Italians to document the war, but who becomes increasingly worried about the fate of his parents back home. A number of the most beautiful moments in the book are descriptions of photographs, a way of attending to what was recorded—and what was not. I had to read it much slower than my usual pace, and I think that was the point: Mengiste wants you to notice the things we usually don’t, and that requires slowing them down enough to really see.