an area of the map for world news.
March 2002 issue of
World Press Review
(VOL. 49, No. 3)
World Press Review Assistant Editor
the face of continual violence is something someone who has
never lived through a war cannot understand, Nega Mezlekia,
the 42-year-old Ethiopian-Canadian writer and structural engineer,
The Bay Portraits Studio)
In Notes from the Hyenas Belly (2000), his award-winning
memoir of life in war-torn Ethiopia, Mezlekia recalls, People
had long since ceased to huddle under their limbs at the sound
[of bombs]. Numbing themselves to the terror was their
only, if weak, line of defense.
Attribute it to an armor of apathy, incredible courage, or sheer
good fortune, but the fact that Mezlekia survived poverty, famine,
insurgency, and revolution is nothing short of remarkable. What
is perhaps even more impressive is his work ethic, which is
evidenced by four university degrees, a straight-A academic
record, a Governor Generals Award for Nonfiction for his
first book, and a novel.
Mezlekia came of age under the brutal reign of Lt. Col. Mengistu
Haile Mariam, the socialist military dictator who supplanted
Emperor Haile Selassie. During that bloody era, known as the
Red Terror, neighbors with grudges against other families could
denounce them to the kebelecommunity councils set
up by Mengistuwhose brand of justice was almost always
death. Mezlekia lost his parents and many of his friends in
the revolutionary opposition to the junta.
In the early 1980s, Mezlekia got his precious ticket out of
the nightmare: an opportunity to study abroad in Europe. But
two years later, looking to come home, Mezlekia found that Mengistu
was still in power; the junta had received backing from the
Soviets and Cubans. Mezlekia had little choice then but to flee
to Canada, where he was granted refugee status.
The process of writing his memoir, which took him four years
to finish, was understandably difficult. After its publication,
Mezlekia was dealt another blow when his editor, Anne Stone,
claimed she had written all but the last 20 pages. Mezlekia
reacted by suing Stone, as well as her publisher, for defamation.
The case is still pending.
Mezlekias second book, The God Who Begat a Jackal
(2001), however, proves that the writer is not a fraud. Even
a skeptic must admit that the author of this book is talented,
Janice Paskey wrote in the Calgary Herald.
Mezlekia hopes eventually to pursue writing full-time. When
I read García Márquez, I think, I have better
stories to tell. Its a huge claim, I know, but Im
going to prove myself, he said to Torontos Globe
In more ways than one, of course, he already has.