ADDIS ABABA – Ethiopian-American author Maaza Mengiste has spoken about the lengths she went to while writing The Shadow King – including learning Italian, and binning her first draft after five years of work in here interview with the BBC.
Maaza’s novel is shortlisted for this year’s Booker Prize – UK’s most prestigious literary award – on Tuesday.
“It was the worst thing I had ever written,” she said. “It was completely debilitating, it was so demoralizing. I threw that draft away and started at page zero.”
In all, the book took Mengiste 10 years to complete.
Writing is, she added, “a process of excavation getting to a point of inspiration. It was sometimes a daily struggle to come to my desk and sit. I have grown with the book… I am absolutely overjoyed to be on this [prize] list.”
The novel is set during the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935.
“For this book I learned Italian to move away from creating stereotypes. I wanted to talk to Italians, descendants of soldiers, and read their archives, letters and diaries on my own,” Mengiste said.
“As my language skills developed… my characters were getting more complicated as well.”
The Booker Prize award is open to any novel written in English published in the UK or Ireland by an author of any nationality. Zimbabwe’s Tsitsi Dangarembga is also in the running, for This Mournable Body.
The winner will be announced on 17 November.