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Booker Shortlist 2020: The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste


The winner? You know the year is 2020 when a book about war is the least depressing book on the shortlist.

What the judges say: 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. She helps disguise a gentle peasant as the emperor and soon becomes his guard, inspiring other women to take up arms. But how could she have predicted her own personal war, still to come, as a prisoner of one of Italy’s most vicious officers?

The Shadow King casts light on the women soldiers written out of African and European history. It is a captivating exploration of female power, and what it means to be a woman at war

Book Worm’s Thoughts: I loved this book. It is everything a Booker book should be. Beautiful writing, important story and a compelling read.
Why this could win: For all the reasons above
Why it might not win: Not bleak enough for Booker (I think this may be my new way of rating books)

Nicole’s Thoughts:   I got maybe 100-150 pages through this and just couldn’t make myself keep going.  I really wanted to like it, but I was just bored. Tried print and audio.
Why this could win:  Diverse author, interesting topic, Ethiopian judge.
Why it might not win:  Hard to say since I didn’t finish, but it’s my prediction for winner.

Tracy’s Thoughts:  One of my top two on the shortlist. I really appreciated the history and this author has skills. The WWII novel isn’t unique, but the Ethiopian angle was something I wasn’t taught in school, and I loved the woman power. If this wins I will be very happy.

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