The JRB presents an excerpt from Maaza Mengiste’s novel The Shadow King, shortlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize for Fiction.
Go back. Open the bedroom door and send young Aster down the stairs. Place the groom on his feet and draw him away from the bed. Wipe the sheet clean of the bride’s blood. Shake it straight and flatten its wrinkles. Slide off that necklace and return it to the girl as she races to her mother. Fix what has been broken in her, mend it shut again. Clothe him in his wedding finery. Let there be no light. Allow only shadows into this kingdom of man’s making. See him alone in the room. See him free of a father’s attention. See him step beyond the reach of elders and all who advise growing boys on the perils of weakness. Here is Kidane, shaking loose of unseen bindings. Here he is, gifting himself the freedom to tremble. All advice has been taken back and he is no longer the groom instructed to break flesh and draw blood and bring a girl to earthy cries.
See this man in the tender moment before he takes his wife. See him wrestle with the first blooms of untapped emotion. Let the minutes stretch. Remove the expectations of a father. Remove the admonishments to stand tall and stay strong. Eliminate the birthright, the privilege of nobility, the weight of ancestors and blood. Erase his father’s name and that of his grandfather’s father and that of the long line of men before them. Let him stand in the middle of that empty bedroom in his wedding tunic and trousers, in his gilded cape and gold ring, and then disappear his name, too. Make of him nothing and see what emerges willingly, without taint of duty or fear.
Read more at: The Johannesburg Review of Books
Source: The Johannesburg Review of Books