LLL Presents Mihret Sibhat & Wendy Belcher – “The History of a Difficult Child: a Novel”
Mihret Sibhat, author; Wendy Belcher, Comparative Literature and African American Studies
December 3, 2023 · 11:00 am—12:30 pm · Princeton Public Library
Labyrinth Books; Princeton Public Library
Join us for a Sunday book brunch: a reading from and conversation about 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. 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.
Wisecracking, inquisitive, and bombastic, Selam Asmelash is the youngest child in her large 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.
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.
Mihret Sibhat was born and raised in a small town in western Ethiopia before moving to California when she was seventeen. She was a 2019 A Public Space Fellow and a Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative grantee. In a previous life, she was a waitress, a nanny, an occasional shoe shiner, a propagandist, and a terrible gospel singer. Wendy Belcher is professor in Comparative Literature and African American Studies at Princeton University and the author of Abyssinia’s Samuel Johnson: Ethiopian Thought in the Making of an English Author, and of the translation with Michael Kleiner of The Life and Struggles of Our Mother Walatta Petros: A Seventeenth-Century African Biography of an Ethiopian Woman.
This event is co-presented by Labyrinth and the Princeton Public Library and cosponsored by Princeton University’s Humanities Council, Comparative Literature Department, and Program in African Studies.