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Blue Daughter of the Red Sea: A Memoir
by Meti Birabiro
University of Wisconsin Press, 2004
Cloth: 978-0-299-19570-0 | eISBN: 978-0-299-19573-1
Library of Congress Classification E184.E74B57 2004
Dewey Decimal Classification 305.892/8073/092


    Born into a life of constant financial, physical, and moral threat, Meti Birabiro takes refuge in literature and the fantastic. Blue Daughter of the Red Sea is Birabiro’s poetic account of the harsh reality of her young life spread across three continents. Her voice is a fresh mélange of child and adult perspectives, at once brutally honest and wise beyond her years. Through her journey from Ethiopia to Italy and finally to the United States, we encounter Birabiro’s relatives, friends, and enemies—relationships so intense that these people become her vampires, devils, angels, and saints. These characterizations always lead her back to the truth, helping her to decipher what is fair and good, to understand what she must cherish and what she must rage against.

Meti Birabiro studied comparative literature at the University of California, Berkeley. She currently lives in the United States.

"This is a world of violence, turmoil, strife. . . . I was completely taken by the plight of [Birabiro’s] characters, the life she represents of this part of the world so few of us know anything about. The impact it made on me as a reader is a devastating one. It’s a reminder that people will rise against all odds to survive and prevail."—Marjorie Agosin, author of At the Threshold of Memories: New and Selected Poems

"When I began to read this memoir, I could not put it down. There is an intensity of experience, a poignancy in the voice of the child-narrator that tells her own harrowing story of poverty and marginality. But at the same time, there is a lyrical tone to her writing. She is able to capture beauty amidst the horrors. And also, she is able to continue becoming human in a dehumanized world."—Virgil Suarez, author of Guide to the Blue Tongue

    <table of contents, p. ix> Table of Contents Preface 000 Acknowledgments and Thanks 000 Translations 000 Book 1: Exodus of Bodies 000 Chapter 1: Light 000 Chapter 2: Appetizer 000 Chapter 3: Reformatory Sessions 000 Chapter 4: God & Satan 000 Book 2: Exodus of Souls 000 Chapter 5: Darkness 000 Chapter 6: Entrée 000 Book 3: Exodus of Innocence 000 Chapter 7: Blossom 000 Chapter 8: Initiating Rites 000 Chapter 9: Colorfield 000 Chapter 10: Novillada 000 Chapter 11: Suicide Machine 000 Chapter 12: The Trouble with the Feet 000 Book 4: Book of Disenchantments 000 Chapter 13: Divine Detour 000 Chapter 14: Pandora Box 000 Chapter 15: The Boxer 000 Chapter 16: The Dancer 000

    Library of Congress Subject Headings for this publication: Birabiro, Meti, Ethiopian Americans Biography, Ethiopia Biography
Poverty is venom that slowly saps one's existence. It is a white noise that quakes the shape of survival. It corrodes the scenery and cuts one's world asunder. I was born and grew up in the heart of that corrosive acid. Dire Dawa, a small city warmly embraced by a fiery sun and caressed by some magicless dust, was the name of my hometown. Life was not charming in Dire Dawa. Children ran barefoot against a background of feces-embedded roads, spinning around the desert city, puffing on the sand so forming dunes of smaller versions, while the little ones piggybacked on their mother's back. They had the appearance of several shiny, brown ponies: untamed and wild creatures. Their feet moved like those of a ballerina without her tutu, dancing to the tune of an unheeded song: free. Their laughter rang like a violent rain of diamonds. And they shouted in a language as inarticulate as their age, and yelled in voices as overly used as the sole of the shoe that was guarded at home for special occasions. The boys wandered nearly naked, their genitals covered with raglike shorts like savages from the jungle. The girls wore simple dresses, their undeveloped chests not yet choked by stifling brassieres. Their dust-devoured feet matched the soiled hands, their nasal mucus, the nappy hair that the sandy and adventurous day had transformed into strands of gray hair, and the clothes, previously immersed in mud. There were cuts all over their legs and ulcers noted on their knees, forming rings of pus. Lice walked on their head and tapeworms lived in their stomach. —Excerpt from Blue Daughter of the Red Sea

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