Maaza Mengiste, author of ‘Beneath The Lion’s Gaze’, talks about her book, her homeland, and the intention behind her writing…

Q: How do you think can education solve the greater problems of the developing nations?

Well, I think education makes an impact on a child that is being educated, but it also  makes an impact on the family that that child will eventually have. In terms of girls’ education for example, if you educate one girl, you are ensuring that she will marry later, she will have fewer children, that her income that she brings into the family will be higher and the children that she has will become educated. So, by educating one girl you impact a family, which mean you eventually impact a village and a town.

Q: How do you think you can have more people read in Ethiopia?

That has to start from childhood. The love of reading comes from a very young age. What’s happening now, in Ethiopia is a lot of organizations are creating books for children in their languages, and writing books of children, about children, that look like those children, that have lifestyles very similar. And I think that’s the way to create a momentum in the country, by focusing on that.

Q: What is your intent behind writing – is it a writing a story or giving attention to a particular subject?

 I am only interested in telling a good story. I am a storyteller on paper. That’s it.

QWhat would be your message to aspiring authors?

 To be an author, you have to read. You have to read everything you can. Read as much as you can and write everyday.

Q: Tell us more about your book ‘Beneath The Lion’s Gaze’

My book ‘Beneath the Lion’s Gaze’ is set during the 1974 revolution that started in Ethiopia and did not end really until the dictators fled in 1991. So if you think about what’s happening right now in Egypt and what’s happening in Syria and what has been happening in the Arab states has happened in Ethiopia in the 1970s, but no one really knew about it at that time. I am most interested, when I am writing this book I was most interested not in just telling the story about the revolution but telling the story of what happens to a family, when they’re forced to have moral conflicts, or ideological conflicts with each other. So this story is about the human and how they survive, rather than just a political history. 


Born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Maaza Mengiste has graduated from New York University with an MFA in Creative Writing. Her debut novel, ‘Beneath the Lion’s Gaze’ won her critical acclaim. It was also selected by The Guardian as one of the 10 best contemporary African books.

You could buy it here:

The Penguin India Blog

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