This is a uniquely personal book in which the drama stems not only
from political revolution, but the dynamics of one deftly drawn Ethiopian
family -- a balanced and well-orchestrated cast of characters who interact
as believable people. The astonishing maturity of this young author's work
is that it does not carry the message of peace on a banner, but rather in
the portrayal of human suffering that arises from the fraying of the bonds
that keep society whole.
As the city of Addis Ababa fragments into the
ranks of soldiers and rebels, our characters are subject to increasing
paranoia and betrayal, building to the humiliation of Dr. Hailu, which has
to be one of the most painful passages in contemporary fiction; and we
realize, as in masterworks like Hans Fallada's Every Man Dies Alone, that
the roots of totalitarianism and war start with the breakdown of everyday
trust in our neighbors; consequently peace begins with conflict resolution
and faith in others.
This enduring message is told in clean and effective
language, with the unflinching eye of a writer true to her material. The
theme is universal, as expressed with understated strength at the end of the
book: "Only the family remained."
— April Smith, 2011 finalist judge
2011 Fiction Runner-Up
(Click photo to see acceptance speech at awards dinner.)
Beneath the Lion's Gaze
Maaza Mengiste was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and she graduated with an MFA in Creative Writing from New York University.
A 2010-11 Fulbright Scholar and recent Pushcart Prize nominee, she was named "New Literary Idol" by New York Magazine.
She has also received fellowships from the Emily Harvey Foundation, the Prague Summer Program, the Virginia Center for the
Creative Arts, and Yaddo.
Her work has appeared in 42opus, The Baltimore Review, Ninth Letter, in the anthology Homelands: Women's Journeys
Across Race, Place and Time, and has been translated and published in German and Romanian for Lettre International.
Beneath the Lion’s Gaze is her first novel. She currently lives in New York.
* * *
“It is an honor to be selected as the Fiction Runner-up for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. I am humbled
by the acknowledgement that a book about revolution and war can, in fact, be a testament to love and human
dignity. I am thankful that this prize exists; that each year, we can reaffirm that literature does make
a difference, that just as much as war can start from errant, misspoken words, writers and readers have
the ability to shift the tide with an equally momentous drive for peace and understanding.”