“An endearing coming-of-age story. . . . Sharp and witty. . . . A wily and operatic novel. . . . Propulsive.” —The Washington Post
"The History of a Difficult Child is an extraordinary novel." —Maaza Mengiste, Booker Prize-shortlisted author of The Shadow King
“An exhilarating novel by a powerful new writer.” —Elif Batuman, author of Pulitzer-Prize finalist The Idiot and Either/Or
A breathtaking, tragicomic debut novel about the indomitable child of a scorned, formerly land-owning family who must grow up in the wake of Ethiopia’s socialist revolution
Wisecracking, inquisitive, and bombastic, Selam Asmelash is the youngest child in her large, boisterous family. Even before she is born, she has a wry, bewitching omniscience that animates life in her Small Town in southwestern Ethiopia in the 1980s. Selam and her father listen to the radio in secret as the socialist military junta that recently overthrew the government seizes properties and wages civil war in the North. The Asmelashes, once an enterprising, land-owning family, are ostracized under the new regime. In the Small Town where they live, nosy women convene around coffee ceremonies multiple times a day, the gossip spreading like wildfire.
As Selam’s mother, the powerful and relentlessly dignified Degitu, grows ill, she embraces a persecuted, Pentecostal God and insists her family convert alongside her. The Asmelashes stand solidly in opposition to the times, and Selam grows up seeking revenge on despotic comrades, neighborhood bullies, and a ruthless God. Wise beyond her years yet thoroughly naive, she contends with an inner fury, a profound sadness, and a throbbing, unstoppable pursuit of education, freedom, and love.
Told through the perspective of its charming and irresistible narrator, The History of a Difficult Child is about what happens when mother, God, and country are at odds, and how one difficult child finds her voice.