This is a story that I did for The Sub-Saharan Informer.
Sebhat Gebre-Egzabher’s uncenosred edition of Letum Ainegalgn (The Dawn Will never Come) that came out a month ago carries a theme that could be considered as progresive or decadent depending on one’s point of view.
The two hundred fifteen pages book of eight chapters gives a slice of life or snapshots of Degach Woube Sefer, the red light district of the 60’s and 70’s where men and women over-indulged in alcohol and sex.
The book has drawn such a strong reaction from the public.Some express thier appreciation and admiration for the book.They say it has a powerful depiction of the innner goings of life, astute portraiture, and compelling emotional strengh.Others find fault with it.They argue there is an over emphasis of sexual encounters and the reader is occasionally made to feel like a voyeur.
Letum Ayenagalgn was written from 1962-1964 in Aix-en-Provence, France while Sebhat was there for a higher degree through a UNESCO-funded sholarship.The number of notes he collected from his observation in Addis’s Woube Desert, after coming in close touch with the French naturalist writers, such as Zola, Rabelais.
The result was a work “that makes no conscous attempt at Ethiopianism.” according one crtic.His long time freind and a writer himself, Solomon Deressa wrote that Sebhat’s characters are etched with such precision and his amharic prose is so unadorned that one barely notices how unusual his stories are.”He has successfullly, I think managed to make perversity rub shoulders with sanctity and find explosive humor in the quiet shortcomings of the national characters.” Solomon argues.
This is not the first work that has created commotion among the reading public and his other novel Tikusat (Fever) and Sebatgnaw Melak (The Seventh Angel) were marked as breaking with exsting Ethiopian literary forms and have earned him as an underground reputation for thier graphic depiction of sex.Most of his works were consided as unfit for publications on grounds of obsenity.But in all his works a whole generation of readers were in the awe of his wrting styles, which are recognized for thier elegant simplicity, powerful evocations of images and use of understaments.
No wonder if Sebhat is today is one of the most-recognized and best-known Ethiopian living writers.
Sebhat is well-versed in Eurpoean and American literatures.He says he is more of a reader than a writer and has read classic wrtiers such as Swift, Dickens, Dostoyvesky, Tolsty, Mark Twian, Proust.
His modest, unaffected and at times bohemian life style has been something of an allure for some circles of society and long before the publication of his books, Sebhat was an insipration for a character in a novel, Derasiw (The Author) by an equally prominent Ethioppian novelist.In the book, he appears as a struggling wrtier who has been terriozed and confufed by the revolution and try to stand firm against all odds, in matters of housing, publishing and his marriage.
Sebhat’s short stoires published in the 80’s , considers by some his masterpieces, established him as a writer of an immense stature.But when another of his book Tikusat (Fever) was published some eight years ago, inspite of the changes made, still shook up some conservative readers.One renowened writer said he wished the book would be less pornographic.
This new and uncensored Ayinega Lelitu includes a whole chapter that wasn’t in the first edition and the brutality of its language describing love making and genital organs make it a lot different.The encompassing theme is of course emotions of lost love, wasted youth, unfulfilled lives, death and trasngression, privileging the erotic over the pornographic.Menassie, the first person male narrator, woth literary aspirations, deciphers the people who he met there and bemones the life wasted there by alcohol, sex, solitude.
Some say the new edtion is loaded with sexual scenes to a sickening extent and publishing in such form was not a wise thing to do.But the publisher, Kalkidan Tadesse says, they came to publish this version as they were convince that it was a work that reflects the world Sebhat was trying to portray and the urban nature of the time.She saysit doesn’t provide a didactic lesson on what people should do or not.
Bot one reader refers an image of bestial intercourse which he says has offended
his his senibilities and he says the book is not only bad but also evil.
His fans argue it is all a portrial of what is in real life and even the book’s directnes would help to raise awarenes of the damaging nexus between sex and violence while it entertains its readers.