Aida Edemariam may not have intended the title of her book to recall the Wife of Bath, of Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales.” Still, three themes fundamental to that canonical work are also at the capacious, warmly beating heart of “The Wife’s Tale,” Edemariam’s chronicle of her grandmother’s life in 20th-century Ethiopia. Chaucer’s medieval classic unfolds as a storytelling battle among pilgrims traveling to the shrine of an English archbishop martyred in a church-and-state intrigue. The Wife throws down with a story about a knight who, to escape punishment for rape, embarks on a quest to find out what makes women happiest. (Sovereignty over their husbands, it turns out.) Edemariam’s sublimely crafted tribute to her grandmother also involves sparring storytellers, religion (including pilgrimage and church-and-state intrigues) and the happiness and sovereignty of married women.
Aida’s book (The Wife’s Tale: A Personal History Hardcover – March 20, 2018) is a personal history because Ethiopia’s public dramas and denouements are refracted through the domestic prism of her grandmother Yetemegnu’s life.
Yetemegnu marries at 8, in the mid-1920s. Her husband — a priest and church administrator — is two decades her senior and as much a father as a husband. He is also an accomplished religious poet, who, as a student reciting his verse in competition with his peers, was singled out for praise. By turns tender and jealously controlling, he beats Yetemegnu with a stick when she ventures outside their home. Once, on her return from a quick errand to a neighbor’s, he hurls a machete, missing her by a hairbreadth. He is her master, as Italians were for a time masters of Ethiopia, ruling it with a brutal, repressive hand. Intimate history meets the sweep of imperial history when Yetemegnu finds the courage to resist. With her husband’s rod raised above her, she stares him down with a steady, shaming gaze; meanwhile, Ethiopian guerrillas take to the hills to fight the Italians.[…] CONTINUE READING
Aida talks about her book: Video
How Aida Edemariam turned her grandmother's stories into a biography about 97 years in Ethiopia. https://t.co/FK1B4kEhGu
— CBC Books (@cbcbooks) April 8, 2018
For this Sunday's New York Times Book Review, I write about a sublimely crafted personal history of Ethiopia, by Guardian journalist Aida Edemariam, told through the life of her grandmother Yetemegnu. https://t.co/S05l2YO5HW
— Gaiutra Bahadur (@gbahadur) May 11, 2018
Just finished reading #thewifestale by Aida Edemariam. Amazing book chronicling the life of her grandmother paralleled with the history of Ethiopia from 1916 to 2013. A must read! @AidaE cannot express how much I loved your book! pic.twitter.com/sTm40XBAPr
— Hanna Felleke (@hfelleke) May 2, 2018
While Aida Edemariam's grandmother endures pregnancies and labours perfumed by incense, Ethiopia changes around her https://t.co/S1DVflLi29
— The Economist (@TheEconomist) March 26, 2018
The Wife’s Tale by Aida Edemariam review – anatomy of an unyielding spirit https://t.co/wnELAWny8B
— Guardian Books (@GuardianBooks) February 18, 2018