Flying to Tigray in the northern Ethiopian highlands to see the problem for himself, Buddy ishosted by the rebels known as the TPLF and their leader, erm, Meles Zenawi (this is supposedto be fiction, remember).
Buddy flies back to California, rousing some celebrities to come together to make a fundraisingpop song in a parody of the events of Live Aid. He commits his life to travelling back and forth toEthiopia, besotted by its people and his unfolding relationship with Hanna. Hanna professes herlove for him but somehow keeps a piece of herself beyond his emotional reach.
What happens next is the real heart of the book, spanning 20 years of TPLF rule in Ethiopia’shistory. Using events such as 911 as a framework, the novel betrays why the relationship withEthiopia was seen as essential to the west in the fight against terrorism in the region. Westerntolerance of Meles enabled him to maintain power by authorising torture and murder hisopponents in a manner that was cold blooded, strategic and on a large scale. Buddy alsobecomes prisoner of his own situation. His whole life has now become about saving Ethiopiansfrom poverty and he has also become someone seen as a close personal aid of Meles. Buddyis increasingly subject to questions as to why he appears to be supportive of the Ethiopiangovernment. Somehow he must also reconcile his relationship with Hanna, now a prominentopponent of Meles and with her own life also in danger.
Some of the events in the book we are not a surprise. Imprisonment of political prisoners was
widespread under Zenawi. Later accusations about his rule are more shocking and
unnerving particularly as the west embraced him as a leader. The outpouring of grief in the
Ethiopia at his death now seems incomprehensible, as well as his resplendent , heavily guarded
state tomb in the grounds of holy Trinity Cathedral in Addis Ababa.
Ultimately this is fiction but set against real historical events. The final moments of the book are
definitely fictionalised but otherwise it is hard to delineate where truth and creativity begin and
end. It is chilling to think or suspect it actually much of what is written is probably true.
Steinman closes with his own grim warning about Ethiopia’s current political situation in an
epilogue. I won’t spoil this for you but I would say if you want to understand if you have how
recent history has shaped Ethiopia today then this novel is essential reading.