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April 13, 2021
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Mary Tadesse, My Life My Ethiopia

Mary Tadesse’s autobiography weaves together the personal, the professional, and the political bringing to life and providing rare insights into the multiple dramatic events spanning much of the twentieth century in Ethiopia. This candid account, which draws on the diaries Mary kept over decades, starts with her family’s Catholic background and childhood during the Italian occupation, describing the setting of her family in the pre-war period and during the early stage of the Italian occupation, brought to a head through the trauma of her father’s killing during reprisals for the attempt to assassinate Graziani.

Mary goes on to describe her formative and challenging experiences going to school in Cairo and then studies in England at the LSE, seen through the eyes of an adolescent growing into a young woman and discussing the difficulties and challenges Ethiopia students experienced abroad being catapulted into an unfamiliar word, and revealing her intense sense of duty and purpose and her involvement in the incipient movement of Ethiopian students in the UK.

Much of the book is devoted to recounting her two careers, first in government service rising to the rank of vice-Minister under the Imperial regime as it began to crumble, followed by the upheavals of the Derg period with all its family traumas as the revolution went sour and began its repressive measures, intimately described during which Mary began her second career working for the United Nations on women in Africa.

The last part of this compelling account vividly portrays her family’s transition and the difficult but inevitable decision to go into exile, the challenges of a family divided and then reunited. The last part of the book deals with the coming to terms with life in the United States and renewed interest in women’s activism in the Ethiopian diaspora and personal and inter-generational changes, with the loss of her husband, and her children finding their feet and going their own ways. 

This sincere and moving story of personal resilience in the face of adversity is an important contribution to understanding the tumultuous changes in Ethiopia through the eyes of a professional woman who succeeded to balance her career and family life under challenging conditions. It offers insights which are rarely published into successive dramatic regime changes from a personal perspective, documenting how the upheavals affected her family and social class and made all the more revealing through the references to the diary she kept. This book is an important contribution to understanding the role and views of women in leadership under changing conditions in Ethiopia.

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