- A Critical Anthology of Ethiopian Literature
Ethiopian literature in Ahmaric is one of the most prolific vernacular literatures of sub-Saharan Africa. Nevertheless, for various reasons, linguistic and nonlinguistic, few outsiders—including Africanists—know (much of) anything about this ever-growing corpus of written materials.
The present anthology represents a small attempt and small step in rectifying this (rather) bleak picture. First, Getatchew Haile provides a fine empathetic review of traditional Classical Ethiopic Ge'ez literature, which he presents—perhaps surprisingly and unexpectedly—as full of literary merit—this, in contrast to most who consider this material "purely religious" and/or "merely translational." The core of [End Page 186] the anthology then follows, consisting of some half-dozen analyses of selected Amharic works. The first two treat Ethiopia's—and Africa's—first novel, the 1908 Lbb Walläd Tarik by Afevork. (I have discussed this work in my note entitled "Ethiopia's First Novel" in RAL 22.3 : 183-84 and will not discuss it further here, except perhaps to suggest terming the seminal work a "novella" or "historical romance" or "saga" instead of a "novel.") The critical essays that follow treat Amharic "novels of disillusionment," dealing with, or even predicting, the downfall and collapse of Haile Sellassie's feudal-bourgeois Empire and/or Mengistu's Marxist-socialist regime. From a purely literary point of view, the best of these novels is Haddis Alämayyähu's Fqr Iska Maqäbar (Love unto the grave) of 1965, a 555-page mammoth work, part one of a trilogy, which clearly deserves the characterization of a true novel and a realistic, naturalistic, and psychological work of art. Taye Assefa, perhaps Ethiopia's most important literary critic today, does great justice to the work in his analysis. (Significantly, an English translation of this work is to appear soon, under the pen of the fine SOAS éthiopisant and amharisant David Appleyard of the University of London.) The anthology concludes with discussions of a few works written by Ethiopians in English, the international language and second foreign language of the State. These include poetry and drama as well as novels. All in all, the anthology is a welcome addition to the small set of works dealing with this much neglected and often maligned, rich and most interesting literary corpus.