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Notes from the Hyena's Belly: An Ethiopian Boyhood Hardcover – January 6, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"Hyenas are the most common, notorious predators in Ethiopia," notes Mezlekia, thus their power in local myth and as a metaphor for the forces that have torn Ethiopia apart in recent decades. This lyrical memoir of an Ethiopian childhood echoes both the myth and the violence of the hyena. In the first third of his literary debut, Mezlekia intersperses accounts of his mischievous, rebellious childhood with the magical tales told by his family to interpret various experiences: magic and spirits were part of everyday life for young Mezlekia. He also carefully delineates the customs of and relations between the Christian and Muslim communities in his hometown of Jijiga. (Mezlekia's mother, though a Christian, took her son to a Muslim medicine man to cleanse him following a series of boyish escapades.) But a third of the way through the text, the material world supplants the world of the spirit and innocence that governed Mezlekia's early childhoodAsocial and political upheaval ruled Ethiopian life in the late 1970s and '80s. At times, Mezlekia, who now lives in Canada, does not clearly describe the various factions that wrestled for power when he was a teenager and college student. But he treats the chaos and famine that enveloped his country with seriousness and styleA"The revolution was eating Ethiopian children at an alarming rate"Aand even while recounting famine and war, he never loses the wit that no doubt helped him to survive some of the worst humanity has to offer. (Jan.) Forecast: This lovely and terrible memoir will undoubtedly be well reviewed and thus reach readers interested not only in the fate of Africa but also in a lyrical account of a foreign childhood. There is an author tour planned.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Born in 1958, the year he calls "the year of paradox," Mezlekia has written an intriguing book about growing up in Jigiga, Ethiopia. Full of adventure, political struggle, and intrigue, his memoir works as a coming-of-age story as well as a glimpse into a world of political corruption and change that Westerners rarely get to know so intimately. Mezlekia writes, "We children lived like the donkey, careful not to wander off the beaten trail and end up in the hyena's belly." He describes the careful divisions in dress, language, and culture between Muslims and Christians and brings them to life through vivid portraits of the people who populated his landscape. Mustafa and Ms. Yetaferu, two permanent houseguests, provide beautiful insight into these two religious and cultural stances in life. Mustafa's business adventures and Ms. Yetaferu's religious ceremonies stand in contrast to each other, creating a dynamic household. Mezlekia's tales of the spiritual and religious beliefs are some of the most fascinating parts of his life. He honors us with the telling of this rich story. Highly recommended for all libraries.DBarbara O'Hara, Free Lib. of Philadelphia
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; 1 edition (January 6, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312269889
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312269883
  • Product Dimensions: 7.1 x 1.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,031,603 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Linda Linguvic HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on February 24, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a memoir of the author's boyhood and young manhood in Ethiopia. Born in 1958 to a middle-class family in the city of Jijiga, Mr. Mezlekia left Ethiopia in 1980 and is now a professional engineer living in Toronto. Narrated with a light touch and a mixture of myth and fantasy, he opens a world for the western reader that has too long been influenced by nothing more than photos of skeletal images of starving children and grinding poverty.
This story, however, is much more than that. From the start, there's a wide variety of interesting characters and a rich warm family life. There's Mustafa, the swindler, who boards at his home; there's Mr. Alula, the teacher, whose severe forms of discipline call for retribution by boyhood pranks; there's Wondwossen, his childhood companion, who joins a guerilla army with him; there are his sisters who never stop feuding. But most memorable of all is his mother, who holds her family together during the extreme hardships which inevitably come to this violent and war-torn land.
He was 14 yeas old in 1972, a time when idealism and student protests were sweeping the globe. In Ethiopia, however, students were gunned down and murdered. Young Nega was jailed often and regularly, and always tortured, but somehow his descriptions of this time in his life are told with a touch of lightness. Years later, in 1977, when over 100,000 people are murdered in seven months during the "Red Terror" and bodies laid out over the streets, he yearns for the time when they were all just simply tortured. Throughout the book, I couldn't help shuddering at the all the cruelty.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By "brookworld" on December 12, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Wow. People may shudder at the comparison, but this book reads a lot like Angela's ashes. There is comedy in what most would call tragic situations. The story is, at times, gut-wrenchingly sad, but the narrator rarely reflects upon it as such. A funny, bright, evocative book that doesn't play either the "Africa-is-mystical&beautiful" game or the "Africa-is-savage-and-primal" card. Frankly, I'm glad, because both are a bit tried. Good book, good read.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By V. Marshall VINE VOICE on June 22, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This book is full of meaning, often insightful and completely unforgettable it is written with candor and wit despite its serious edges.
Nega Mezlekia has written a memoir about his boyhood growing up in Ethiopia during the fall of Emperor Selassie. He experiences all of the curious playful things that all boys are reared with yet he also discusses the harshness of the environment during the rise of Junta communism in which thousands of young people were ruthlessly slaughtered. He writes on page 183, "Apathy in the face of continual violence is something someone who has never lived through a war cannot understand......People simply gathered about themselves, like rags, what life there was left, deafened and inured to the inevitability of death." Although Mezlekia has many horrible atrocities to write about this is not all he adheres to. At times this memoir is very witty and I laughed out loud several times imagining some of his shenanigans. His adventures with medicine men and native cures is hilarious as well as his attempt to capture the loose cattle in his village with pepper.
I am always impressed with the attitude of Africans who survive the atrocities they have faced in their home countries. Their spirit and survivalist hearts seem to always prevail despite the horrible circumstances they are often forced to endure. Mezlekia managed to escape his country at possibly its worst moments, not without heartache, not without suffering, but with a true gift as a storyteller. I would recommend this memoir to everyone interested in a great true tale but especially to those concerned with the plights of our fellow human beings who suffer so gracefully for their native lands.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By nagar on February 7, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I am an Ethiopian, the same generation as the author, but I am from another ethnic group, the Oromo, and poloitical group, Meason. Reading Nega's book has helped me come to terms with my past in ways that I can hardly begin to explain.
Like most of our generation, I had taken part in gureela momevent when life became unbearable in towns. I had, initially, belonged to the same political party Nega belonged to--the EPRP. Unlike Nega, I saw the falasity of the party and changed tack early, joining the military Junta. Unfortunately, Meison didn't fare any better than EPRP.
Notes from the hyena's belly is the kind of book I never thought an Ethiopian, particluraly someone from such a visious political group, the EPRP, would write. I salute Nega, I am proud of him. I can now reconsile myself with those Ethiopians that I have been avoiding for the last eleven years for political reasons. Africa's problems are not solved by recriminations, but by reconsiliations. Hope those Ethiopians with an axe to grind would see the beauty in this book and set aside their differences. Well done, Nega
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Andrew Czernek on March 16, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Mezlekia's story is about growing up in the second half of the 20th Century in Ethiopia, a period of upheaval that includes the overthrow of Haile Selassie and subsequent socialist governments. It richly describes the ethnic tapestry of the country, weaving in folk tales and folk medicine. The stories told by his mother and others are rich diversions in the story of his life and make this history more literary.
He has a highly developed sense of satire and irony, whether when plotting revenge against a strict teacher or when commenting, "To make sure that there was no mistaking the nationality of those involved in designing and building most of the (Addis Ababa) university, the various gadgets and fixtures within them had the 'American Standard' imprint on them."
Highly readable, whatever your knowledge of Africa might be.
Highly recommended if you want to understand what type of economic structures are appropriate in the developing world. Yet it's real strength is in the human story.
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