3 out of 4 stars
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Lucy's People: An Ethiopian Memoir is an autobiographical and historical book written by Mesfin Tadesse and co-written by Ianet Bastyan. It centers on the author's early life in Ethiopia until he left for Kenya as a refugee. The book covers the turbulent period between the 1960s and 1991, during which the communist Derg overthrew the Ethiopian monarchy and ruled for over a decade before collapsing under rebel forces.
Mesfin Tadesse offers a unique depiction of Ethiopia from a native's point of view, highlighting not only underappreciated historical details but also cultural aspects and day-to-day activities, which gives the reader a broad, holistic understanding of the nation. I was particularly moved by some descriptions of the Second Italo-Ethiopian War, especially the horrifying mustard gas attacks, and I enjoyed learning about the role of women in the conflict. The book also features a few pictures, but it would've been better if they were spread out across several chapters rather than relegated to the final pages.
Speaking of descriptions, though the author prefers brief, straightforward sentences, this writing style actually heightens the impact of some passages. For example, the book presents this short but chilling paragraph while discussing the Derg's conscription of young men and its effects on families: "The luckiest conscripts returned home with deformities. They were missing an eye or two, or an arm, or one or both legs. The next most fortunate came home in a box. The unlucky never returned home – families only received a message" (page 174).
That said, the book's presentation is also its main weakness. Some passages felt cryptic and in dire need of more explanation at first, and I could only decipher them later on. The first chapter is particularly guilty of this, throwing the reader right in the middle of an episode in the author's life without explaining the context or clarifying when it occurs. Indeed, it can be hard to follow the timeline at times: the author generally follows a chronological order, but he tends to abruptly insert events from the future and the past in unrelated chapters.
I wholeheartedly recommend Lucy's People to readers interested in autobiographies or learning about different nations and cultures. People expecting a rigorous history book might want to look elsewhere, however, since the writing incorporates the author's subjective views and experiences. There are also a few instances of violence, heavy themes, and profane language, making the book unsuitable for young readers. Overall, I rate the book 3 out of 4 stars, deducting a point due to the presentation issues.
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