The God Who Begat a Jackal

Picador USA

Nega Mezlekia

Central Theme
Ethiopian history, mythology and legend combine to reveal the challenges of evolving an African Nation, with its tribalism, ancient customs, and native mythologies, mingled with Coptic Christianity, into a modern nation state.

Last year in the New York Times Book Review, Nega Mezlekia’s memoir, Notes from the Hyena’s Belly, was described as, ‘the most riveting book about Ethiopia since Ryszard Kapuscinski’s literary allegory, The Emperor, and the most distinguished African literary memoir since Soyinka’s AkƒË† appeared 20 years ago.’ Now, from the author of the hugely acclaimed memoir, comes a first novel steeped in African folklore and teeming with the class, ethnic and religious struggles of pre-colonial Africa.

In The God Who Begat a Jackal, the 17th-century feudal system, vassal uprisings, religious mythology, and the Crusades are beautifully intertwined with the intense love between Aster, the daughter of a feudal lord, and Gudu, the court jester and family slave. Aster and Gudu’s relationship is the ultimate taboo, but supernatural elements galore presage a destiny more powerful than the rule of man.

Beliefs num
–God is called Mawu-Lisa and is both man (Lisa) and woman (Mawu), with Mawu ruling the night and Lisa the daytime.
–God’s children were sent to populate the earth and you are descended from either their good offspring or bad.
–Class, race and gender define your place in this world.
–Being a woman is a curse, but as in all societies, women are resourceful in achieving their goals through manipulating men.
–Miracles and magic are real and can be learned and cultivated.
–Among us dwell spirits called ergum who exist between this life and the next and can be controlled only by a special potion called a markesha.
–The natural world is directly related to the spiritual
–This culture has difficulty transitioning from one that is subject to the whims of nature, to one that harnesses nature for its own purposes.
–Coptic Christianity must coexist and be mingled with ancient Ethiopian myths and traditions.
–Feudal governance loses power when democratic reform is underway so reform is to be resisted.
–Feudal power requires that the rich exploit the poor and economic equality is a threat to this feudal power.
–Feudal Lord’s harness organized religion, as a way of controlling people and fundamentalism is its most extreme manifestation.
–War is inevitable as one feudal Lord seeks more power and dominance over another.
–Forbidden love is most compelling

Questions Worth Discussing num
–How can an ancient society transition to a modern one characterized by democratic governance and economic opportunity for many or all?
–Is organized religion always used to exercise authority and control over its adherents?
–Can Christianity co-exist with native religious myths and customs?
–Why are people in every society vulnerable to fundamentalism even in its radical manifestations?
–How has the subjugation of women remained so pervasive?
–Is there always tragedy associated with romance?

Provocative Quotes bul
–The Sage of Sages waited patiently for Aster to struggle with her third eye.
–Aster had started to communicate with departed spirits and could foretell the onset of a disease before the patient showed outward symptoms.
–The only remedy the trio (of herbalists) could agree on was a potion originally intended for sufferers of unrequited love–five highland herbs, a scrub of hand stain form a doorjamb, a touch of elephant dung and water that was not from an underground origin.
–Aster’s skin had been washed of its earthly colors. Becoming transparent, revealing what no living soul had ever seen before in a living, breathing person: internal organs, the structural skeleton, blood rushing through veins, teeth visible through clenched mouth, eyes rolling in space.
–Count Ashenafi learned with a heavy heart that one of the reasons for his endless troubles stemmed from the ground his home was built on — it was on the route of migrating spirits. Also he learned that he was being targeted by the spirit of a monk he had unknowingly killed in the heat of combat. As both cases involved restless souls, the remedy was within easy reach: animal sacrifice would do the trick.
–Reverend Yimam had an intimate knowledge of the Inquisitions — he vowed, for instance, never to permit relapsed or unrepentant heretics to be left unmarked. Beza introduced a strict dress code for her female charges, requiring each woman to wear her skirt a touch longer than her ankle; a chador that hid her hair from view; a load of bricks that hung around her neck forcing the women to look down at her feet and not at a passing man. Her most daring overture was when she set out to curb alcohol consumption, censor secular melodies, theatre performances and abolish the annual cockfight.
–Gudu proved himself, once more, an astute diplomat as well as a visionary when he arranged a public debate with opinion-makers of the community on the issues that concerned them most.
–Enquan couldn’t help but think of the dawning day, which would bring her not only a new master and a new set of rules, but also a new God.

Posted in Books, Staublog in January 15, 2002 by | No Comments »

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