About the Book

Held at a Distance: A Rediscovery of Ethiopia is Rebecca Haile's memoir of her journey back to her homeland after her family's forced exile and twenty-five years in the United States. Haile revisits the events that caused her family's departure and considers how those and subsequent events have impacted real people, both in Ethiopia and abroad. She profiles key family members still living in Ethiopia, and writes movingly about Ethiopia's recent past and aspects of its ancient history. The result is a unique and powerful glimpse into a fascinating African country.

"Part travelogue, part history, part memoir, Rebecca Haile's Held at a Distance shines a bright and unique light on Ethiopia, a country in whose fortunes we as Americans and Westerners have been concerned for some time, but which remains in large part a mystery to many of us. . . . Today, Ethiopia, for far too many people, is synonymous with poverty and warfare; but for generations of African Americans, it was the font of black civilization itself, the spiritual source of visions of a united and prosperous Pan-Africa, the living testament to the glories that were Black Africa. In her bold new book, Haile moves far beyond the one-dimensional headlines that encapsulate Ethiopia in the Western press to provide as rich and nuanced a portrait of her native land as I have seen. It's an important and beautifully written volume."
- HENRY LOUIS GATES, JR., Harvard University

"This is the story of an Ethiopian child who became an American adult, and then returned to rediscover her country of origin after 25 years. What she discovers is the difficulty and dangers of defining identity in our contemporary world, a well-nigh universal problem. This is a memoir that reads like a novel, and encourages thoughtful reflection on our dilemmas."
- IMMANUEL WALLERSTEIN, Yale University

 
 
At readings and other talks, people almost invariably ask how and why I came to write Held at a Distance. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, of course, so that is the first answer. For this book, I had several specific ideas in mind. I wanted to highlight aspects of Ethiopia’s long history and culture that get lost in headline stories about poverty and warfare. I wanted to try to humanize Ethiopia – I thought that if I wrote about my grandmother or my uncle the engineer, or about places that carry personal significance, I could bring rich dimension to Ethiopia. And I wanted to explore what it means to be both American and Ethiopian, because this matters to me personally and because it matters to the growing Ethiopian-American community. We are, thirty years after the revolution, slowly coming to terms with ourselves as an immigrant community, as people who feel a real connection to both countries. The question how we pursue meaningful lives here that also honor our tie to Ethiopia carries real urgency. I hope I’ve contributed to the discussion.

 
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