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Period, History, and the Literary Art: Historicizing Amharic Novels

From: Northeast African Studies
Volume 13, Number 1, 2013 (New Series)
pp. 19-51 | 10.1353/nas.2013.0006



The period between 1960 (the failed coup) and 1974 (the successful military takeover of power), was a momentous segment of contemporary Ethiopian history. It was an era teeming with social unrest among various social classes and strata of society. It is a very concentrated period full of accidents and coincidences that were melodramatic and absurd, and which mostly ended tragically. This made it particularly suitable for Ethiopian literary art. The most esteemed works of art in Amharic literature and source of incitement even for the present academia are products of this period—Fəqər əskä mäqabər, YäTéwodros ənba, Adäfrəs, Ke’admas bashaggär, and Létum aynägalləñ. This article argues that these novels are highly affected by the prevailing spirit of their time—the mood of confusion, ambivalence, fragmentation, and the spirit of anarchy and nihilism. The novels, like other cultural products and activities, were initiated by the past, but they employed it to distill the abstract spirit of the times that were unnoticed by their society. They attempted to shape the era itself. This article’s focus is not solely the “historicity of texts.” History here is not simply a backdrop against which the literary works are to be viewed but itself constituent of the text, inscribed in the text as one component.

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