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A Novel of Lybia’s Anticolonial War


Literary & General


Gebreyesus Hailu


Ohio University Press/Swallow Press


English, translated from Tigrinya


Gebreyesus Hailu (1906–1993) was a prominent and influential figure in the cultural and intellectual life of Eritrea during the Italian colonial period and in the post-Italian era in Africa. With a PhD in theology, he was vicar general of the Catholic Church in Eritrea and played several important roles in the Ethiopian government, including that of cultural attaché at the Ethiopian Embassy in Rome, member of the national academy of language, and advisor to the Ministry of Information of the Eth...




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The Conscript depicts, with irony and controlled anger, the staggering experiences of the Eritrean ascari, soldiers conscripted to fight in Libya by the Italian colonial army against the nationalist Libyan forces fighting for their freedom from Italy’s colonial rule. The novel’s expressive language is just as distinct as its thematic quality. The moving descriptions of Lybia awe the reader with mesmerizing images, picturing in the reader’s mind its vast desert sands, oases and horsemen. Anticipating midcentury thinkers Frantz Fanon and Aimé Césaire, Hailu paints a devastating portrait of Italian colonialism. Some of the most poignant passages of the novel include the awakening of the novel’s hero, Tuquabo, to his ironic predicament of being both under colonial rule and the instrument of suppressing the colonized Libyans. The Conscript is a beautifully told, fiercely yet complexly anti-colonial novel. Imperialism is mostcertainly a cruel villain, but what's interesting is how far Hailu implies that Tigrinya traditions and ideologies particularly of masculinity and war play into the hands of the colonials.


“Gebreyesus Hailu does Africa great service in recounting an all but forgotten and therefore all the more reprehensible chapter in African colonial history. In the same spirit, Ghirmai Negash’s superb translation brings back to world literature an Eritrean literary jewel of global and timeless relevance.” —Alemseged Tesfai, author of Two Weeks in the Trenches (2002) “This translation from Tigrinya into English by Ghirmai Negash brings the slim, fascinating novel to a broad readership so that we might appreciate its value as a complex and moving reflection on Eritrean involvement in the Libyan anticolonial war. …The colonial encounter, as represented in Hailu’s novel, is messy and multifaceted, and this is, perhaps, the novel’s most important insight, one that could usefully be sh...



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