WINNER OF THE RSL ONDAATJE PRIZE 2019
AN ECONOMIST BOOK OF THE YEAR
A CBC BOOK OF THE YEAR
The extraordinary story of an indomitable 95-year-old woman – and of the most extraordinary century in Ethiopia’s history. A new Wild Swans
A hundred years ago, a girl was born in the northern Ethiopian city of Gondar. Before she was ten years old, Yetemegnu was married to a man two decades her senior, an ambitious poet-priest. Over the next century her world changed beyond recognition. She witnessed Fascist invasion and occupation, Allied bombardment and exile from her city, the ascent and fall of Emperor Haile Selassie, revolution and civil war. She endured all these things alongside parenthood, widowhood and the death of children.
The Wife’s Tale is an intimate memoir, both of a life and of a country. In prose steeped in Yetemegnu’s distinctive voice and point of view, Aida Edemariam retells her grandmother’s stories of a childhood surrounded by proud priests and soldiers, of her husband’s imprisonment, of her fight for justice – all of it played out against an ancient cycle of festivals and the rhythms of the seasons. She introduces us to a rich cast of characters – emperors and empresses, scholars and nuns, Marxist revolutionaries and wartime double agents. And through these encounters she takes us deep into the landscape and culture of this many-layered, often mis-characterised country – and the heart of one indomitable woman.
About the author
AIDA EDEMARIAM, who is of dual Ethiopian and Canadian heritage, grew up in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She studied English literature at Oxford University and the University of Toronto, and has worked as a journalist in New York, Toronto and London, where she is currently a senior feature writer and editor for the Guardian. She is a recipient of a Royal Society of Literature Jerwood Award for a work of non-fiction in progress, and lives in Oxford.
- ‘The power of Aida Endemariam’s writing is precisely its ability to reach across the gaping chasm formed by time, alien tradition and unfamiliar mores, connecting up our common humanity’ Michela Wrong, New Statesman
- ‘Extraordinary vivid “personal history”… Edemariam not only brings her grandmother to life but also conveys the complexity of a unique, still strongly religious African culture’ Andrew Lycett, Literary Review
- ‘To read The Wife’s Tale is not just to hear about times past and (for a western reader) far away, but to be transported into them’ Lucy Hughes-Hallett, New Statesman
- ‘The Wife’s Tale is unique, above all for its brilliant combination of big historical vistas with vivid physical details of life in Ethiopia … It is an exceptional biography’ Richard Holmes
- ‘The story of Edemariam’s grandmother is a sweeping tale of Ethiopia’s history in the 20th century and a highly personal tribute to one woman’s life … It’s wonderful’ Emerald Street
- ‘What brings this narrative flaring to life, though, is not the rigour of its research but its imagination and novelistic tone; Edemariam’s prose climbs inside Yetemegnu’s memories to inhabit them and bring her solidly, vividly, to life’ Arifa Akbar, Observer
- ‘Outstanding and unusual memoir … The Wife’s Tale is told with the turns and twists of a novel, layered with dialogue and stories’ Nilanjana Roy, Financial Times
- ‘The Wife’s Tale is a remarkable achievement: meticuliously researched, finely wrought and deeply felt, it is the story of one woman’s life lived, not so much against the backdrop of history, but in the midst of it’ Aminatta Forna, author of The Memory of Love
- ‘This account of the life of Aida Edemariam’s grandmother is embellished with the author’s fiery imagination and her deep reading about Ethiopia’s history…It’s a book that gets under the skin’ Ysenda Maxtone Graham, The Times
- ‘A window into a world that would otherwise be invisible to us’ Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone