Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

Tower in the Sky

Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

Tower in the Sky

Article excerpt

Tower in the Sky. By Hiwot Teffera. Addis Ababa: Addis Ababa University Press, 2012. Pp. 437; photographs. Paper.

This book belongs to a newly emerging genre of memoir that relives the trauma of Ethiopia's 1974 revolution and the era of the Derg (1974-1991). The era included both the initial blush of optimism on the downfall of the imperial government of Haile Sellassie I, but also the nightmare of the Red Terror that rent Ethiopia's social and political fabric in the late 1970s and early 1980s. We now have a growing body of fiction on that experience, but also autobiographical writing that more closely chronicles the first-person, subjective experiences of individuals who found their way to the diaspora or who stayed to live their lives anew and now reflect on their own emotions of fear, the exhilaration about new times, or ambivalence about violent change.

Tower in the Sky is the memoir of the author, an urban, middle class young woman who reached her adolescence in the early years of the revolution, joined the optimistic activism of the Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Party (EPRP), and then joined many of her generation in the prison system. Her story takes us from her arrival at Haile Sellassie I University in 1972 to her release from prison in 1986. The narrative includes her building of social networks among fellow students, furtive visits to the "kissing pool" on campus, joining of the activist networks in the university, her love affair with a EPRP intellectual, and her work as a EPRP courier in the heady months between the fall of the imperial government and the rise of the Derg's iron fist. The journey she describes takes the reader from the Marxist idealism of the student movement to the struggles of her imprisonment.

This book stands in sharp contrast to the new body of fiction like Abraham Verghese's remarkable Cutting for Stone, or Dinaw Mengistu's The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears, which frame fictional lives in the turmoil of Ethiopia's modern politics and struggles of life in the diaspora. Tower in the Sky never leaves Ethiopia's cities (though the author now writes from Canada) or the author's social class. She does not try to offer an expansive view of social change. We see nothing of conditions in rural areas. …

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