THE EMPEROR DOWNFALL OF AN AUTOCRAT by ssh14851

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									BOOKS                                                                                                  then denounce his colleagues more boldly,
                                                                                                       giving the monarch a better insight into the
                                                                                                       operation of the Imperial apparatus. It is
                                                                                                       true that the minister being received at an
                                                                                                       audience preferred to talk about the disor-
                                                                                                       ders reigning in other departments rather
THE EMPEROR: DOWNFALL O F AN AUTOCRAT                                                                  than about those in his own; but precisely
by Ryszard Kapuscinrki                                                                                 by talking to all the dignitaries, he could
(Hmurt Brace Jovanovich; 164 pp.; $12.95)                                                              put together an overall view."
                                                                                                          From the first years of his reign Haile
ETHIOPIA, GREAT BRITAIN, AND THE UNITED STATES 1941-1974                                               Selassie had sought to modernize his king-
by Harold G. Marcus                                                                                   dom. He abolished slavery, founded a postal
(University o California Press; xii + 205 pp.; $26.00)
             f                                                                                        system, and introduced electricity and au-
                                                                                                      tomobiles. He projected the establishment
Sterett Pope                                                                                          of a modem army and civil service and sent
                                                                                                      students abroad to get the best university
 Ethiopia occupies a peculiar place in con-          path of history seeking its own justice.         educations. This was the first step on the
                                  uig
 temporary African history. D r n the nine-             Kapuscinski's book is rapportage pieced       path to ruin. Returning from abroad, grad-
 teenth century it was the only African state        together from interviews with former mem-        uates were appalled at the ignorance and
 to survive the onslaught of European con-           bers of the imperial court whom he sought        cormption of their government and soon
 quest and colonization that swept the rest          out in hiding in 1974 amidst the terror and      began to nourish secret plans for reform.
 of the continent. Sheltered by its rugged          chaos of revolutionary Addis Ababa. To            One of these, Germane Neway. a young
 and remote terrain, Ethiopia decisively re-         these witnesses Haile Selassie was a su-         man of high birth and great promise ap-
pulsed an Italian invasion in 1895, and its         perhuman figure around which their lives,         pointed governor of a remote district,
kings were left free to develop an African          and the life of their nation, had turned; and     shocked the palace by using the bribes he
 feudal kingdom reminiscent of the abso-            they describe h i s fall from power in hushed     received from local magnates to build
 lutist monarchies of preindustrial Europe.         tones of awed incredulity. Although the book      schools and hospitals. Then Germane went
 Although the country eventually suc-               is ostensibly a collection of personal ac-        further, suddenly revealing Communist
cumbed to Italian conquest in 1936, Hade            counts, it is certain that the author has taken   sympathies by giving away abandoned
Selassie returned from exile to recover his         some liberties with his material to fashion       wasteland to impoverished peasants. He was
throne during the Second World War. Se-             a coherent tale that combines the terse irony     summoned forthwith to Addis and trans-
questered for 50 long beyond the reach of           of Camus with the folk surrealism of Ga-          ferred to another province, whose only in-
foreign d e and international market forces,        briel Garcia Miirquez. Translators William        habitants were nomads. But Germane found
Africa's most independent country became            R. Brand and Katarzyna Mroczkowska are            allies in the highest circles; he and his
its most archaic and impoverished society.          to be commended for making Mr. Kapus-             brother, the chief of the Imperial Guard,
Only recently was the kingdom torn asunder          cinski's debut in English a literary as well      finished by plotting a military coup that
by r e v o l u t i o d e continent's most violent   as a journalistic event.                          seized the palace and almost dethroned Haile
and far-reaching to date.                              The Emperor begins with an account of          Selassie while he was abroad in December,
   This dialectic is fully reflected in the rule    the Negus's daily routine. Perturbed that         1960.
of Haile Selassie I, a king who exercised           for even a few hours his vigilance has suc-          The coup was defeated, the conspirators
such an enduring and thoroughly personal            cumbed to the insensibility of sleep, the         executed, and thousands of suspects im-
inauence over his subjects that his career          indefatigable monarch rises before dawn to        prisoned, but the Negus's rule was badly
encapsulates the political history of the           review the oral reports of his several spy-       shaken. He purged whole ministries and had
country he ruled for almost sixty years. An         masters. whose competing networks of in-          his favorite lions shot "because instead of
amalgam of charisma and inscrutable raison          formers had spent the night cataloguing the       defending the Palace, they had admitted the
d'Ctat, the King of Kings was a virtuoso at         gossip and intrigue of the capital. At nine       traitors." To keep control the monarch was
traditional statecraft. a master of force and       o'clock the King of Kings attends the Hour        obliged to redouble his duties of state; after
fraud who ruled by tireless manipulation of         of the Assignments, when he personally            the coup he added new "hours" to his sched-
cormption and conspiracy. This, in any case,        sees to all promotions and dismissals of          ule: the Development Hour, the Intema-
is the portrait Ryszard Kapuscinski offers          government officials, however unimpor-            tional Hour, and the Army-Police Hour. It
in The Emperor, an oriental tale as exotic          tant. The Chosen One of God maintains             was this latter hour that increasingly claimed
and universal as any by Voltaire or Mon-            absolute authority by constantly juggling         his attention as peasant uprisings and stu-
tesquieu. Published in Poland in 1978, The          appointments,setting arrogant nobles against      dent demonstrations became more and more
Emperor was greeted by that country's dis-          plodding bureaucrats, and checking both           frequent. The great failure of the emperor's
sident intellectuals as a political allegoy         with his "personal men"-royal           clients   old age was his inability to reverse the great
depicting the decay of Poland's Communist           without rank and title whose only distinc-        success of his youth-the creation of a purely
regime and the embryonic growth of the              tion is blind loyalty to the emperor.             personal system of power. Proclaiming a
Solidarity movement. Though it is difficult            At ten the King of Kings attends the Hour      new age of welfare and enlightenment for
to cite two political economies less con-           of the Purse, when he audits and approves         his subjects, he could not deliver them from
gruent than those of imperal Ethiopia and           all royal disbursements, however inconse-         his own "whims of power, labyrinths of
socialist Poland, Kapuscinski speaks t both
                                          o         quential. AI eleven comes the Hour of the         Palace politics, ambiguity. darkness that no
settings by evoking an almost millenarian           Ministers, when the emperor receives each         one could penetrate."
sense o decadent tyranny and the wayward
        f                                           minister separately so that "a dignitary would       Through the solemn testimonies of the
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emperor’s servants, Kapuscinski has pre-          one act of imperial finesse effectively foiled   work vividly exposes the reader to the ur-
served an unforgettable portrait of tradition     the coup. As the conspirators fled the capital   gent life-and-death drama that, though an
skeptically confronting the mysterious            and the emperor returned to Addis to review      everyday matter in El Salvador, remains
menaces of modernity. Describing the pre-         his loyal troops in front of jubilant crowds,    essentially beyond the comprehension of a
vailing atmosphere in the palace after the        “the hysteria of the mobs had almost gotten      secure American public. This story of a
1960 coup. one courtier muses: “A kind of         out of control”--here Marcus is quoting the      peasant family whose existence is inescap
mania seized this mad and unpredictable           American consul’s report-“and the Em-            ably transformed by a repressive govern-
world, my friend: a rhania for development.       peror was soon surrounded by innumerable         ment within an unjust society renders im-
Everybody thought about developing him-           screaming people. Had anyone wished to           mediate the abstract issues the American
self, and not according to God’s law that a       assassinate him, it would have been very         public (or some small percentage of it) now
man is bom, develops and dies. No, each           easy.”                                           associates with Central America. The ac-
one wanted to develop himself extraordi-             Drawing extensively on American d p     i     tions and aspirations of the members of a
narily, dynamically and powerfully.. ..Yet        lomatic archives and Ethiopian documents         single family. as they struggle through one
our Empire had existed for hundreds, even         and interviews, Marcus shows an American         fateful day, forcefully depict the need for
thousands, of years without any noticeable        mission finely attuned to political devel-       the reform of a feudal society, the total
development, and all the while its leaders        opments in the host country as well as to        disregard for human rights under a military
were respected, revered, worshiped.” And          the interests of the U.S. Although the           government’s rule by terror, and the in-
once started, the madness of development          American embassy threw in its lot with the       creasing leadership offered by a church op-
was irreversible. “That’s where the mistake       emperor as soon as it became clear that his      posed to unending repression.
was.” another courtier concludes, “no             loyalists would prevail, the U.S. mission            One Day o Life opens as Lupe Fuentes
                                                                                                                   f
movement should have been permitted, since        realized the full implications of the abortive   Guardado awakens in her rancho on the
we could only exist i immobility. The more
                     n                            coup. Indeed, numerous diplomatic reports        outskirts of Chalate in Chalatenango Prov-
immobile immobility is, the longer and surer      during the ’60s analyzed the impossible          ince. As she watches the sun rise and birds
its duration.”                                    contradictions of the emperor’s rule, and in     flit h u g h the sky, the reader senses Lupe’s
                                                   some cases uncannily anticipated some of        dignity, her communion with her environ-
   Harold Marcus’s Ethiopia. Great Brit-           the complex developments of the military        ment. and the traditional order of her world.
ain, and the United States is a scholarly          coup and the ensuing Ethiopian revolution.      Lupe recalls an incident in which she was
account of the emperor’s postwar foreign           But because of the perceived inevitability      spared being hanned by a snake: “The voice
policy. Like the late shah of Iran, Haile          of violent revolution and the dispensability    of conscience illuminated my way.. .the
Selassie’s mastery of palace intrigue and          of American installations in Eritrea, U.S.       voice of conscience belongs to one and
factional maneuver served him well in the          diplomats never seriously confronted the        doesn’t belong to one. It comes from only
rough-and-tumble world of intemational             intractable dilemmas of reform and revo-         God knows where.” Lupe is stating the prin-
realpolitik. Swept back into power on the          lution in Ethiopia-as was also the case          cipal theme of One Day oflife: the role of
heels of the British invasion of Ethiopia in       later in Iran and Central America.               conscience in the ongoing struggle of the
1943, the emperor used great-power pa-                When the deluge did finally come in 1974.     Salvadoran people. The novel highlights the
tronage to consolidate his rule and extend         advances in satellite technology and favor-      growing awareness of thc Salvadoran poor
his kingdom. The gradual dismantling of            able developments in the Middle East had         about the injustice of their plight. “After a
Britain’s overseas empire allowed the Ne-          marginalized Ethiopia’s strategic impor-         congress was held I don’t know where
gus to annex the former Italian colony of          tance for the U.S.; and American diplomats       ...religion was no longer the same.’’ Instead
Eritrea with the blessing of the United States,    graciously conceded the triumph of Soviet        of preaching resignation, the Church began
which later used Eritrea as a key listening        influence in Addis. Marcus’s conclusion will     to advocate involvement and the promotion
post on its anti-soviet defense perimeter.         surprise few State Department profession-        of community. Simultaneously, Lupe notes,
During the ’50s and ‘~Qs,    Ethiopia claimed      als: “ U S . policy towards Addis Ababa re-      “the Guard started appearing in our neigh-
the1ion’sshareofU.S. aiddollarsin Africa,          mained essentially unprincipled, even im-        borhood...they began telling us that the priest
although American diplomats could not re-          moral, in its pragmatic opportunism.             had made us insolent, had filled our heads
strain the emperor f ”diverting to military        Survival of an important [but nonessential]      with strange ideas.”
projects the aid that was earmarked for so-        American facility was the priority.” 6 ! D I        It is soon clear that the Fuentes Guardado
cial and economic development.                                                                      family is facing catastrophe. Lupe’s son
   Marcus devotes his longest chapter to an                                                         Justin0 has recently been murdered by the
hour-by-hour account of Germane’s failed                                          I                 Guard, his head chopped off and stuck on
military coup. Confirming the particulars of      ONE DAY OF LIFE                                   a roadmarker for all to see. The husband
Kapuscinski’s prose-poem, Marcus por-             by Manllo Argueta                                 of her daughter Maria Pia has been “made
trays Ethiopia’s “Decembrists” as naive           (Vintage Press; 215 pp.; $6.95 [paper])           to disappear” by the Guard; and now Maria
idealists without doctrine or program, bun-                                                         Pia, beaten repeatedly herself, must go with
gling revolutionaries wbo understood nei-         Holly Myers                                       her smallest children up to the hills at night
ther the art of mass politics nor the workings                                                      in order to escape abduction by the Guard.
of palace intrigue. Prior to his departure for    This is among the first works of the new           Lupe’s husband, JosGknown as Chepe-
Brazil in December, 1960, Haile Selassie          Aventura series from Vintage. Originally           has also been forced into hiding, returning
had become aware of dissension within the         published in El Salvador in 1980. Argueta’s        home only at dawn to eat his breakfast and
military; but instead of moving against the       fine novel accomplishes what endless reams        then slip away again. On his particular day,
malcontents directly, he chose to juggle          of journalism about the continuing tragedy         Lupe’s fifteen-year-old granddaughter,
several strategic posts in the Ministry of        in that country would never ‘do. Through           Adolfina-Maria Pia’s daughter-is com-
Defense. Marcus’s study indicates that this       an intense evocation of character, Argueta’s       ing 10 visit her. When the Guard show up
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