The best books on Ethiopia : start your reading here

The Guardian
May 1,2015

Our literary tour of Ethiopia covers the traumatic overthrow of the monarchy and the bloody revolution that followed, taking in past and present, fact and fiction

The best books on Ethiopia: Beneath the Lion’s Gaze by Maaza Mengiste, Nega Mezlekia’s Notes from the Hyena’s Belly and Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
The best books on Ethiopia: Beneath the Lion’s Gaze by Maaza Mengiste, Nega Mezlekia’s Notes from the Hyena’s Belly and Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

In 1954, a young Indian nun working at a mission hospital in Addis Ababa dies while giving birth to identical twins. Their father, a well-respected British surgeon, disappears, abandoning the boys. Fortunately for the twins, the two doctors who deliver them become their loving, adoptive parents.

This big, bittersweet, beautifully written novel, set mostly around the hospital, follows the family’s fortunes over five decades. As the boys come of age, Ethiopia’s turbulent politics – executions, rebellions, coups – play out sometimes on the periphery of their personal story and sometimes at its very centre.

The “elder” twin, Marion, narrates the tale, at the heart of which is an act of betrayal that breaks the strong bond between him and his brother Shiva.

When political events take a dangerous turn, forcing Marion to flee to New York, he finds himself becoming entangled with his past and forced to come to terms with it.

Verghese, an acute observer, vividly evokes life at the hospital and in the bustling capital. He delivers a page-turning, emotionally absorbing tale – despite a surfeit of medical detail (the book’s title is a phrase from the Hippocratic oath).

The Ethiopian-born author is a doctor who lives, writes and teaches medicine in the US. This, his first novel, has sold more than a million copies.

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