The form that she [Edemariam] chooses is striking. It’s evident that she spent years gathering not just her grandmother’s tales, but also travelling and researching historical archives in order to bring alive Ethiopia’s shift from the age of empires and dictatorships to its present-day, turbulent democracy. But Edemariam doesn’t let the scaffolding of her research show. The Wife’s Tale is told with the turns and twists of a novel, layered with dialogue and stories taken directly from an oral tradition ... If Edemariam creates a sense of intimacy by imagining her grandmother’s innermost thoughts, she also brings history alive with her gift for vivid description ... It is one startling, unforgettable story among an abundance of riches.
Her book is a personal history because Ethiopia’s public dramas and denouements are refracted through the domestic prism of her grandmother Yetemegnu’s life ... The chapters, named after months in the Ethiopian calendar and suffused with an awe for the landscape, direct our attention to the immemorial, recurring rhythms of earth and sky: of rain, sowing and harvest, of weddings, births and funerals ... The Wife’s Tale, which plunges us into her consciousness almost as if no seams existed between the author and her subject, as if Edemariam were channeling her grandmother’s spirit, is in a sense the older woman’s narrative gambit from beyond the grave. Her story is certainly cracked open in the telling, so assured and so transcendent, it could win Chaucerian contests.
This account of the life of Aida Edemariam’s grandmother is embellished with the author’s fiery imagination and her deep reading about Ethiopia’s history ... Edemariam wants us to fall in love with Ethiopia, and she does a good job of it. Her descriptions of the daily grinding of spices, the making of sauces and the scent of limes are beguiling ... The book’s heightened, almost Biblical prose can sometimes be a bit too grandiose ... The reality is dreamlike enough. It’s a book that gets under the skin.