Aster is the only child of feudal warlord in Ethiopia. Her father values her because he spent a lot of money to make all the sacrifices to the gods needed to get her. Even when she starts being a bit odd like walking through walls and moving things with her mind, she is his pride and joy. He decides to keep her safe by locking her away from the community.
Gudu is a slave who is in charge of remembering stories and histories. He is put in charge of entertaining and guarding Aster. They fall in love which is absolutely not acceptable. Gudu is banished and starts a rebellion to try to get access to Aster again.
Ok, so that’s the plot and it is totally not the point. Reading this book is like listening to someone tell a story that gets more and more outrageous to try to make you laugh. It is also satirical about the tradition of violence in the area.
The Abettors are old men who help people have wars. They aren’t on any side. They help anyone who needs it. If the side they are helping is doing too well, they will also help the other side to make it more interesting.
“A quick study of human nature, the Abettor realized that men may endure without bread and water but not without war, and so he made it his calling to afford them a fair and refreshing combat…
…A few of the people he had so diligently served had conspired to put him out of service in the most hideous ways. In an ordinary year, he could expect to be stabbed to death twice. Once, an army of retreating archers shot him with ninety-five arrows. On three different occasions, he was carved into palm-sized pieces and his remains served to hawks and storks; he was also known to have been buried alive. But, each time, the old man resurfaced in some remote corner of the kingdom in one piece, invigorated by his ordeal, ready to influence the outcome of another raging war.” page 115
To balance the satire of the story, there is a historical postscript that discusses what Ethiopia was like at the time of the story and discusses the facts that the tale is based on.
This story is unlike anything else that I’ve ever read. It is a book I wouldn’t have noticed if I wasn’t trying to read books by authors who have lived in the countries that the books are set in. This author was born in Ethiopia and now lives in Toronto.