A Novel Essay

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The novel is set in during the fall of the last of a line of religiously empowered emperors. The violent revolution is used as a backdrop for the internal fracturing of a family led by Hailu who is a physician and father. Hailu was motivated to become a doctor after failing to stop his mother’s suffering and death; he wanted to be able to tilt the scales of life and death in favor of his patients however this is often beyond his power. The source of Hailu’s empowerment is external, rooted in the male dominated culture which empowered and enabled him to become a physician, a process females would traditionally be excluded from. Another externally empowered male figure is Emperor Haile Selassie. He is portrayed as having been a warrior and was remembered fondly by the older generation for taking part in the expelling of the Italian occupation forces during World War II. He dresses himself in the cloak of divinity tracing his ancestry back to the Bible. He holds control of through military force; the same force which would eventually turn against him. The theme of violence as a source of male empowerment is a reoccurring one. Male soldiers commit acts of cruelty during the Derg’s rise of power. Hailu’s son Dawit constantly gravitates towards violence without realizing the ramifications. Early in the novel Dawit beats a neighbor who he believed was raping a female house maid. Later he is rebuffed for his rash action by his mother, Selam, “House girls are sometimes expected to do more than cook and clean. You could have cost Mulu her job.” (Mengiste, 23). This illustrates that while men do hold power, it is a power that lacks forethought or refinement; many of the men in the novel lack wisdom and self awareness. In contrast to the men, Selam, Hailu’s wife, demonstrates an inner strength of spirit. She is able to tame the violent nature of her younger son,

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