The Wife’s Tale
the past has too often been tied to the so-called great men of history. In The Wife’s Tale, Aida Edemariam binds Ethiopia’s tumultuous twentieth century not to famous emperor Haile Selassie but to her own grandmother, Yètèmegn Mèkonnèn. Yètèmegn’s story beings in 1916 and sees her married, at eight, to alocal priest. Ethiopia, ruled by royal family and the church, soon goes through a process of “modernization” after the invasion by fascist Italy. In Yètèmegn’s city, these foreigners build a cinema, hotels, and new roads — but solely for the benefit of the Italians: “Below that, where the city continues into the Saturday market and the bluffs overlooking the Qeha, everything was still bare earth. Electricity stopped there too, and piped water,” Edemariam writes. The Italians are eventually forced out, but a few decades later, a vanguard of Marxists, bearing guns and the slogan “Etyopya tiqdèm. Ethiopia First,” take over.
The book, grounded in Yètèmegn’s decades as matriarch to a growing family, doesn’t focus on the leaders ushering in these upheavals but rather on the people forced to live through them. With a keen attention to the senses — the smell of mint in a garden, the pings of rain off a metal roof — Edemariam laces together the history of woman and country in such a way as to make one indispensable to the other.
— Daniel Viola