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the Complete Review
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Sebhat Gebre Egziabher

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Title: Seed
Author: Sebhat Gebre Egziabher
Genre: Stories
Written: (Eng. 2003)
Length: 50 pages
Original in: Amharic
  • Seed is not listed at Amazon.com
  • and Other Short Stories
  • Translated -- or rather, "retold" -- and with an Introduction by Wendy Kindred

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Our Assessment:

B- : slim collection, fairly basic

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       At fifty pages Seed is barely more than a chapbook -- or pamphlet --, with a short Introduction by translator/reteller Wendy Kindred and five stories by Sebhat Gebre Egziabher, including the one he appears to be best-known for, 'Five ... six ... seven'.
       The five stories vary in style and intent. The collections opens with a brief comic piece, 'Excess', in which a man "suffered an attack of generosity" and mixed some booze with his dog's hamburger -- only to get an earful from the dog (which has the unlikely name of 'Computer'), who complains: "What do you humans know of generosity ? You take everything for yourselves", and then proceeds to make his point with a long list of examples.
       'The Taxi and Beyene' offers a more extended lesson, following a taxi driver and describing how: "Anger became his breakfast, lunch and dinner." 'Searching for Abel', meanwhile, is a variation on biblical themes, opening with Adam and Eve at age thirty, when they "still looked young, as young as the day they were created", only for Adam to age overnight when confronted with what happens to his son, Abel.
       The remaining two stories are, like 'The Taxi and Beyene', also in a more realist vein, with the title-story describing an eight-grader who is being raised by her aunt getting pregnant -- a variation on a familiar story and fate that, despite some powerful flashes, Sebhat doesn't flesh out sufficiently for it to truly stand out; it also ends far too abruptly.
       'Five ... six ... seven' tells the story of man, Bersufekad, broken by his obligations: "when he married, God gave him seed and poverty in combination", as he has five children but with a sickly wife is hard pressed to support or even feed them. The title comes from a madman's rant, the wise fool who knows Bersufekad's fate is shared by many others in this impoverished land:

What man has not been buried four times, five times, six times by the deaths of his loved ones, only to rise and die again ? They try to save us with the fires of Hell. Where do they thnk we are ? Where else but in Hell ?
       The pieces collected in Seed suggest some story-telling talents, but have a loose, unfinished feel to them (save the first, which is meant to be little more than a longer joke), and one can well imagine them being retold on other occasions in different form, Sebhat embellishing other sections and rushing over some of what is presented in more detail here. The slight lack of polish is less of an issue than the lingering sense of incompleteness, that there should be just a bit more, at least, to the stories. As is, it's also a strange mix of stories, beginning with the comic and moving through pathos and tragedy -- a sampler of his talents, perhaps, but arguably ranging too far in such a slim collection.

- M.A.Orthofer, 21 June 2010

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Sebhat Gebre Egziabher: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of books from and about Africa

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About the Author:

       Ethiopian author Sebhat Gebre Egziabher (ስብሐት ገብረ እግዚአብሔር) lived 1936 to 2012.

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© 2010-2012 the complete review

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