The Wife’s Tale: A Personal History: Winner of the RSL Ondaatje Prize 2019

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The Wife’s Tale: A Personal History: Winner of the RSL Ondaatje Prize 2019

The Wife’s Tale: A Personal History: Winner of the RSL Ondaatje Prize 2019

RRP: £99
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Living the cloistered life of a cleric’s wife, Yètèmegnu is forbidden from playing with other children or, after a few short lessons, learning to read.

The biography is interspersed with prayers to the Virgin Mary and it is clear that in Edemariam’s eyes her grandmother is a kind of mother goddess, giving life to her garden, her animals, her children, her neighbours. A week ago I knew almost nothing about Ethiopia, except that it is Orthodox Christian and that there was a dreadful famine in the 1980s that my malapropism-prone great-aunt once referred to as “the famine in Utopia”. He helped one of Yetemegnu’s sons, Aida, (who is the author’s father), to get a scholarship to Canada to study medicine. Within her small, pastoral world she is treated as a noble; her larder brims with crops from her husband’s peasant-tilled fields.Edemariam’s gaze travels from the “silver spears” of eucalyptus leaves to “wobble-humped zebus” and goats “plotting delinquency”.

Edemariam’s narrative often expands to cover the bigger picture – Italian occupation in the 1930s, resistance, liberation, political coups, revolts and famine – before contracting back to Yetemegnu’s life. And yet as Yetemegnu expressed the frequent violence that her often kind and loving husband precariously inflicts she also conveyed her aspirations and her rebellious stance that she continually conceived. The wedding scene distils the wonder and confusion of the child bride who feels something remarkable is happening but is barely cognisant of what it means: “The long black cape was lined, the heavy gold filigree around the collar and down the front made it heavy, and it was getting heavier. And so Tsega’s turbulent and at once blissful relationship with Ba’aata begins, which the author dazzlingly portrays. Her husband is a priest who rises up the ecclesiastical ranks and then becomes a judge under the aegis of Emperor Haile Selassie.She emerges as a bewitching and resilient figure whose life-changing moments sometimes intersect with the tumultuous history of her nation. We enter an ancient-seeming world of royal courts, courtiers, and the mania of an absolute monarchy that holds everything – from legal appeals to school places to office jobs – within its palm. The church of Ba’aata Mariam, which once turned Emperor Tewodros II’s mother away when she brought her son to be baptized because she sold kosso (purgative) to survive, and could not “afford the two jars of dark beer, two bowls of stew and forty injera they demanded in payment,” became Aida’s major source of inquiry. You may also opt to downgrade to Standard Digital, a robust journalistic offering that fulfils many user’s needs. That’s what I’m like after reading Aida Edemariam’s enriching book about her grandmother’s long life (1916-2013) in Ethiopia, from child bride to wrinkled great-grandmother.



  • Fruugo ID: 258392218-563234582
  • EAN: 764486781913
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