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  • Book Review: The princes and princesses 11 December 2018 | View comments

    By Brook k Seifu
    Just finished reading the book by Emebet Hannah Mariam Dereje, great granddaughter of His Majesty, Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia.
    Here is my take on the book that I found to be the ultimate page turner that forced me to finish reading it in a couple of days.
    This book has the power to manifest Emperor Haile Selassie both as an Emperor of one of the oldest nations in the world with well defined, conservative national values and as an ordinary Ethiopian elder (የሃገር ሽማግሌ) whose love and care towards his large family members is no different from an everyday, traditional Ethiopian elder with a large family. The very surprising liberal attitudes of the Emperor are also well represented where Emebet Hannah demanded to wear trousers that was met with her mother's protest but decisively countered by the Emperor's permission to let her be. Who would have thought?
    The "palace kids" deference to the keepers of the palace was beyond amazing. It showed the values of then Ethiopians. The princes and princesses were respectful of their parents' employees. This is specially mind boggling to my generation who have seen children of officials who have served a lot of beating and humiliation to traffic officers who stopped them for speeding or other reasons.
    Its a book written for those who understand and respect monarchy and for those who possess open mind and willingness to go beyond this book to further understand the Ethiopian monarchy and its familial dynamics.
    In this book, its clearly written how the Emperor adored Emebet Hannah's father and how he felt indebted to his loyalty that resulted in her father's untimely death. For that reason, coupled with the Emperor's love towards his family and children in general, the great grandfather took the role of a father and provided much needed love, care and a close watch over her upbringing. This part of the book and the part that details her last moment with her great grandfather speaks a volume about the reality. That reality is, despite the Derg's claim that the Emperor had billions stashed elsewhere, the most he was able to give to his beloved great granddaughter whom he knew was saying farewell for the last time to, was a small envelope of hundreds of dollars. Reading this during the time when unbelievably ridiculous amount of looted capital was being siphoned away by government officials and their children, I can't help but conclude that it was indeed a divine plan that made this book possible. The royal children were simply counting on excelling to serve God, country and the Emperor. Emebet Hannas decision to leave her jewelry box filled with expensive gifts from around the world, knowing it probably was the last time to see the country, is a perfect example of the absence of greed, specially, in the younger generation of the family. 
    Children, grandchildren and great grandchildren of the "billionaire" Emperor ended up looking for ways to make a living as waiters, parking lot attendants etc.....after the revolution.
    Yes, the Emperor's family, as any royal family around the world, legitimately used state coffers to finance the education and livelihood of its members. Presidents and prime ministers are no different. Same state coffers financed the education of those that brought down the empire. 
    Her comments about the needed land reform and the reasons behind the Emperor's hesitation is very insightful and informative. Her judgment wasn't clouded by her royalty.
    What I think she left out but should have been part of her book was the Emperor's reaction when the "derg manipulated famine documentary" was aired. How he was shocked by what he saw, how he left his dinner and retired to his room and how he forcefully and mercilessly criticized those responsible for hiding the scope of the famine from him. 
    Perhaps Emebet Hannah didn't want to seem over protective as the book was intended to tell her personal life experiences but not justifying HIM's government despite the fact that the Emperor was not totally aware of the situation.
    Many ridiculed the Emperor because of the famous birthday cake but again, it would have been a plus to let the public know that the Emperor nor his children never ordered the cake but rather it was another member of aristocratic family who wanted to show a goodwill. It was not a secret that the Emperor's children were very unhappy about that damned cake. 
    Going through the happy times and then the ordeals that involved the mass loss of beloved family members as a result of torture and execution, the incarceration of loved ones for over a decade with little or no means of communication was not an easy feat for the young members of the family to endure. But yet, with God's grace, the culprits suffered at the hands of their enemies while the survivors of the imperial family emerged victorious at the end. Fake propagandas debunked and the Emperor finally and posthumously getting recognition for the great man that he was and his descendants excelling in their own domains armed by the values of the great Emperor.
    This book somehow, remotely reminded me of one of my favorite novels by Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo.
    As to the author,
    I have always understood Emebet Hannah as a very insightful, well learned, detail oriented inquisitive scholar and have always sensed her purposely hidden innocence. This book, her own doing, showed us the real Emebet. Independent woman but yet respectful of our conservative traditions. Proud and then humble enough to care for her milk delivery man by couriering his letter to the Emperor personally and remembering from her nannies to the cooks and palace keepers.
    An innocent royal woman who recounted and shared her romantic memories graciously despite being divorced from her ex-husband she described as a handsome man. 
    She clearly was invested in her book passionately and wrote it with no constraint and thought of political (royal) correctness. 
    Pretty much a first for an Ethiopian oriented book based on personal experiences.
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