The White Hart Speaker Series is presented in collaboration with The White Hart Inn, Scoville Memorial Library and Oblong Books and Music
The Shadow King is a gripping novel set during Mussolini’s 1935 invasion of Ethiopia, and takes us back to the first real conflict of World War II, casting light on the women soldiers who were left out of the historical record.
Mussolini’s technologically advanced army prepares for an easy victory over Emperor Haile Selassie’s armies. Hundreds of thousands of Italians―Jewish photographer Ettore among them―march on Ethiopia seeking adventure. As the war begins in earnest, Hirut, Aster, 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 against the Italians. But how could she have predicted her own personal war as a prisoner of one of Italy’s most vicious officers, who will force her to pose before Ettore’s camera?
What follows is a gorgeously crafted and unputdownable exploration of female power, with Hirut as the fierce, original, and brilliant voice at its heart. In incandescent, lyrical prose, Maaza Mengiste breathes life into complicated characters on both sides of the battle line, shaping a heartrending, indelible exploration of what it means to be a woman at war.
Maaza Mengiste was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. A Fulbright Scholar and professor in the MFA in Creative Writing and Literary Translation program at Queens College, she is also the author of Beneath the Lion’s Gaze, named one of the Guardian’s Ten Best Contemporary African Books. Her work can be found in The New Yorker, Granta, and the New York Times, among other publications. She lives in New York City.