Giracha Kachiloch (Grey Bells) Amharic novel
Shama Books, June 2005
Adam Reta is no stranger to the Ethiopian literary scene. He has produced a number of well-crafted short stories including Mahlet and Izabel that had received wide acclaim by the literary circle. He is probably of limited interest to anyone who hasn’t yet felt the
subtle, precise charm of his short stories but it is considerable appeal for anyone who has.
Giracha Kachiloch (Grey Bells), his first novel, also seems to be a rousing departure from the conventional narrative novels dominating the Ethiopian literary landscape. It is set in pre- and post – revolution Ethiopia of the 1974.
The protagonist and narrator of the novel, who is introspective, explores various happenings, personages and sites in his tiny village named Nefasmewcha. It is this village that forms the
backdrop to the story. The entire novel is about the life, his isolation, his young unrequited love, and his exploration of the various nooks and crannies of his village, how he copes with the tragedies and his awakening. We feel that he is a perceptive mind, but his reactions to experience are still elementary as
befits his undeveloped state. He spends a great deal of his time wandering in the town’s streets or sitting under a telephone pole in a certain hillside, doing little more than thinking, reminiscing and walking about on the road.
The narrator’s name is Mezgebu Dubale, a name that he
never liked, and it meant ‘his record’. He claimed
that he is God’s record. He said, ‘it was me who was
hurting a lot and keeping record of everything.’
Mezgebu lost his mother while he was three and this
must be one of the most traumatic events in his life.
His father, who was a barber, (probably the only
barber in the village) was a remote and uncaring
figure. He would call him only when he wants to send
him on errands to buy Tela (a traditional malt).
Mezgebu’s stepmother happened to be an odious woman
who made his life hell. She used to tell the child
that he was cursed at his birth and used to accuse him
of ‘causing troubles’ for the family. He says:
“When she goes to hell, God will bring a charge
against her on what she did to me, standing on the
fire, she will surely say… it is that ‘evil, trouble
causer’ who led me here. She likes putting the blame
on others.” (p.9)
In much of the novel, Adam Reta makes use of the
stream of consciousness technique rather than
conventional narration. There is no description of a
character of action outside of the way the character
sees himself and the events in which he is involved.
There is no selection of incident for the core of
climax it might have contained. Whatever happens
derives its value from the mere fact of the central
character’s awareness and interest.
Mezgebu begins his day proper rising from his bed
early in the morning (even before the grey bells of
Medhaniyalem Church, the Church of the Saviour of the
World, begins to ring) and making his way to his usual
seat in the hillside, a place that he has always
considered his own territory. He sits there for hours
on a moist stone, watching and observing around him.
He has little desire to take part in everything that
is going on around him, he simply absorbs both good
Mezgebu's respite from the solitude and the constant
turmoil around him was when he was in the company of
his favorite fiction book Chereka Sitiweta (When The
Moon Comes Out) written by Berhanu Zerihun. He hasn’t
read many books but this one that he borrowed from his
schoolmate had become the staple of his bedtime
reading. He often wondered how one could write such a
wonderful book and he even called the author a
magician. One hot noontime, when he was noticing with
pleasure naked young women washing their bodies in the
river, Mezgebu remembers the characters in the book
and starts wondering if Berhanu wrote the book after
watching these kinds of women. He makes a point of
asking people, especially those who look educated, if
they had read the book and he was stunned and
disappointed to hear none of them did. Taking his
lover to Entoto Mountain in a clear night when the
moon was out became his constant fixation during the
latter part of the novel. Here also one could question
how much reliable is what he tells us about the book.
Is it really that good or a delusive impression of a
person who has just read one book?
To be sure, Mezgebu’s portrait of Wosenyelesh, his
childhood fascination and dream girl, carries the
greatest emotional impact. He says he was attracted to
her after he saw her surrounded by heavenly light in
Meskel celebration, the alleged finding of Christ’s
cross by queen Ellena. He says on that day that
Nefasmewcha was ablaze with the little yellow daisy
and score of people who come with torchlight to light
the big Meskel bonfire. After the service was over,
and the flaming torch turned into ashes, children
start gathering around the ashes. It was then that he
saw Wosenyelesh, who was wearing a splendid Kuta, (an
open weave cotton wrap worn as a shawl) and he says
when she sat next to the fire, her eyes were gleaming
like a fire. He says he liked the sight of her face
that was quite and tranquil. Thereafter, she has
become on obsession with him, though it was unrequited
But what he did one day seemed downright silly. One
morning he came across Wosenyelesh on his way to his
errands and stopped her and asked her to dance with
him right away. She was bewildered and frightened and
told him she would cry for help if he doesn’t get out
of the way.
Towards the end of the novel, Mezgebu tells us about
the ebb and flow of his passion with Genet. His new
found love and support from her seemed to have a
redemptive power. There he gains confidence and
self-respect. Genet nurses his dying spirit and
transforms it to celebrate the joy that has always
been his to claim. Despite all he has gone through,
there is still colour in the world, which makes his
Perhaps Adam Reta’s greatest strength is his lyrical
eye for detail; his descriptions of emotions and
physical features and simply brilliant.
This book deserves a read and re-reads. A thorough
understanding of the book makes us think, try to find
Mezgebu’s characteristics in our selves and avoid the
mistakes that he commits.