A tragicomic family saga set in a small Ethiopian town following the 1974 socialist revolution, told from the perspective of the youngest daughter of a large, formerly land-owning family, who contends with bullies, poverty, and a dictatorship with humor and a refusal to be silenced.
A wily and operatic novel ... Spans decades, swinging between the past (before Selam) and the present with a casual and impressive ease. We’re in Selam’s point of view for most of the novel, but Sibhat occasionally supplements the child’s limited perspective with other voices ... Sibhat uses Selam’s capriciousness — the child’s tendency to overreact, to draw improbable conclusions, and to declare someone an enemy or an idiot — to her advantage. That perspective burrows into the truth and beauty of our emotional landscapes and underpins the most biting parts of this novel’s ultimately endearing sweetness, keeping The History of a Difficult Child grounded no matter where Selam’s journey — or imagination — takes her.
Easy prose ... The novel is told from the point of view of a child, first as an infant and, eventually, not much older than a fifth-grader. The results are mixed, bordering on gimmicky and contrived. But Sibhat,...has created a memorable character in Selam, who entertains us — and her family of siblings and extended relatives — with her smarts, humor and wily charm ... Ultimately, this is a sometimes heady, often rowdy mix of a novel that stretches the limits of credibility but delivers its message with humor and brio.
Over the course of Salem’s story, Mihret Sibhat captures many of the elements of Ethiopian life and culture. The sights and smells of daily life especially those involving food are detailed ... Mihret Sibhat’s command of language, her sense of humor, and her love for Ethiopia combine to stir the memories of any who have encountered this culture and people.