The Chains of Heaven: A Walk in the Ethiopian Highlands

The Chains of Heaven: A Walk in the Ethiopian Highlands Oh boy how I disliked this book I was expecting a lot of different things Travel chronicles, adventures, impressions about Ethiopia and between, a source of information about the country and the traveling there But now, this book islike a treat of theology, the most boring thing I could imagine It s all about religion Religion in general, religion in Ethiopia And that s it I confess that I couldn t finish it Put it down around page 270 Just couldn t take any of it. In the early 1980s Philip Marsden traveled to Ethiopia, which both shocked and awed him He had never been outside Europe before, and Ethiopia impressed on him how vast, diverse and wonderful the world was.Not always a safe or politically happy place to be, Ethiopia did not see him back until he was in his 40s He went in search of old acquaintances in Addis Ababa and discovered what politics had cost the people he had come to like so much on his earlier visit to the country.The Chains of Heaven In the early 1980s Philip Marsden traveled to Ethiopia, which both shocked and awed him He had never been outside Europe before, and Ethiopia impressed on him how vast, diverse and wonderful the world was.Not always a safe or politically happy place to be, Ethiopia did not see him back until he was in his 40s He went in search of old acquaintances in Addis Ababa and discovered what politics had cost the people he had come to like so much on his earlier visit to the country.The Chains of Heaven is the story of his journey, on foot, to fabled Tigray from whence his old guide had come, and of which he had waxed lyrical There were rock cut churches to explore at some peril curious individuals to meet not all friendly and setbacks and disappointments to endure and overcome.His goal being Aksum, fabled home of the Ark of the Covenant according to Ethiopian legend, Marsden s journey is really a pilgrimage, although not with any religious agenda But religion is impossible to avoid in Ethiopia, both the native brand of Christianity and the gentle brand of Islam brought in by refugees from Arabia hundreds of years ago.Marsden obviously delights in telling stories of Ethiopia its history, its peoples, its legends and folklore He writes vivid and often amusing pen portraits of some of the memorable individuals he meets on his journey.When at times I found my attention wandering from the words on the page, something would happen, some event or encounter, that would bring me back and entrance me all over again Even if I get around to visiting Ethiopia myself, it is inconceivable that I would ever choose to make a journey on foot like Marsden.But that s the whole beauty of The Chains of Heaven Marsden did it so I don t have to His experience of the adventure is sufficient for me.Review by Kerry HenniganJanuary 9, 2014 Since completing the second read of two of Kathleen Jamie s nonfiction books, I have been searching for an author that has the same talent for the written word This is the first of Philip Marsden s books that I have read and it is up there in terms of readability with Kathleen Jamie s work.The text is Marsden s journey through parts of Ethiopia where he was accompanied by a guide and a variety of mule men and their animals Although small in number, previous books that I have read on travelling Since completing the second read of two of Kathleen Jamie s nonfiction books, I have been searching for an author that has the same talent for the written word This is the first of Philip Marsden s books that I have read and it is up there in terms of readability with Kathleen Jamie s work.The text is Marsden s journey through parts of Ethiopia where he was accompanied by a guide and a variety of mule men and their animals Although small in number, previous books that I have read on travelling through Ethiopia have portrayed the country as unpleasant and full of people who want the West to provide endless money and supplies whilst they just wait for the foreign aid to roll in This book says, Not so Ethiopians are self sufficient and resourceful The country has a deep and long history that Marsden crafts into his journey with the skill that leaves the reader looking forward to turning the next page It is a rare book indeed that I will read twice and I expect this book will at some point in the future fall into this category This guy makes an amazing trek from Lalibela to Axum on foot, and visits all the churches and monasteries on the way It s full of Ethiopian mythology And it s great to read it in situ I found this book while browsing and was curious, mainly because my husband is Ethiopian and I therefore have a certain amount to do with some of the Ethiopian community here in Auckland Of course, they are all expats, and most of them are refugees, therefore it s not the same as going there and seeing what life is like.The book is well written and very readable I found it confirmed a lot of what I already know and filled in a number of gaps. Philip Marsden really brings Ethiopia to life with his wonderful travels It brings back fond memories of this beautiful country and its friendly people. For those interested in this part of the world this is an easy read. If you re not planning to go to Ethiopia or you haven t been, I don t think I d recommend this slow meander through Tigray But if you are or have, it is one of the few books I ve come across albeit, with limited access to books that tells any of therecent stories the Derg, the Tigray rebels, the latest famines But it is first a travel book, Marsden s log of his hike from Lalibela to Axum, some hundreds of miles over canyon, gorges, peaks and cliffs He visits the famous, old rock hew If you re not planning to go to Ethiopia or you haven t been, I don t think I d recommend this slow meander through Tigray But if you are or have, it is one of the few books I ve come across albeit, with limited access to books that tells any of therecent stories the Derg, the Tigray rebels, the latest famines But it is first a travel book, Marsden s log of his hike from Lalibela to Axum, some hundreds of miles over canyon, gorges, peaks and cliffs He visits the famous, old rock hewn churches I didn t quite get what a rock hewn church was until reading the descriptions in this book literally, a monolith or cavern, like something you d find in the American Monument National Park, that has been chipped away to form a cathedral or a simple church Building in reverse, with all the designing done in negative, relief space To get to some of the churches, you have to walk narrow ledges with drops of thousands of feets others you need to climb a ladder, or a rope, or a metal chain When the author finally pulls himself up a harrowing climb up a metal chain, his sweaty hands slipping and an endless plunge hovering behind, the monk sitting calmly at the top laughs and tells him, I am never afraid I put my faith in God Marsden speaks Amharic, so his travels through this isolated and at times xenophobic region are fairly smooth The adventure is the planned one listening to stories of war from old peasants, navigating steep terrain with a few donkeys and a few local mule handlers, finding water and homesteads in which to raise his tent, being woken by oxen sniffing his face, instead of hyenas or any of the other wild creatures outside homestead walls I m getting homesick for a country I haven t left yet, for a region I have yet to visit though I did travel to nearby Lake Tana and the Amhara highlands around.A nice story Philip Marsden returns to the remote, fiercely beautiful land whose powerful mythic appeal has fascinated him all his life to explore its legacy of independence, civil war and brutal repression Twenty years after he first fell in love with Ethiopia, Philip Marsden returns to its stunning landscapes and violent contradictions to trace the stories of the individuals he first met there as a young man Through interviews with figures closely tied to Mengitsu s Stalinist regime, as well as the everyday people bound up in the country s civil war, its famines and its long tradition of proud independence, the author pieces together a portrait of a nation marked by both terror and beauty, torn between innocence and experience Part travelogue, part autobiography, The Chains of Heaven will rediscover an Ethiopia that has changed dramatically over the past two decades

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