The Shadow King tells a story of WWII struggle from two unique perspectives: that of Ethiopian history as well as women’s part in it. In my experience, classroom lessons about WWII are usually Eurocentric and ignore the conflict’s effects on the non-Western world. Mengiste’s book accomplishes the opposite, creating a narrative centered on Ethiopian people from the writing of an author who, as Alex Preston of The Guardian notes, was forced flee the country due to violence at a very young age.
We are also very interested in this novel because it challenges “how we automatically position history in terms of what men did” (Mengiste). This is a very important example to set in our modern society as we are finally having open conversations about the gender stereotypes around us. Her novel helps to overcome the gender barriers around war and conflict. Thus, I love how she depicts women in a war of her home country which Mengiste claims she “never heard about growing up” (Mengiste). She is creating an example for the female leaders of the future to look at and dream big. She is letting them know that they cannot be barred from making an impact and changing the world which I believe is a very important narrative.
One of our biggest takeaways so far is the destructive power of war. Mengiste emphasizes this through repetition in many different scenes of the novel. Mengiste also presents war as a means for humans to express their darker anger and are changed as a result. After Kidane has seen war and taken a life all he wants to do is die. Another important aspect is the gender and class-based power dynamics. Aster has had her physical autonomy taken away through her marriage to Kidane. In order to restore her sense of power, she chooses to dominate women who are lower class than her, including her servants and the wives of her husband’s subordinates.