Addis Ababa Noir is another edition of the fantastic Akashic Noir collection of anthologies. There are fourteen short stories, though few are what I would normally think of as noir. Maaza Mengiste is a literary writer and most of the stories in this anthology fit more comfortably into literary fiction than noir. Perhaps when the violence of the Derg, war with Eritrea, and ethnic violence remains in living memory, life itself may be noir.
The first and final stories seem to enfold the others, both stories of remaining through the Derg (a brutal military junta that overthrew Haile Selassie) or fleeing into the diaspora. “Kind Stranger” by Meron Hadero is a confessional story told by a stranger to a man returning for a short visit. The confessor recounts his love for a student whom he betrayed to the Derg decades ago and his encounter with her recently. The final story, “Agony of the Congested Heart” by Teferi Nigussie Tafa is narrated by a man in the diaspora, telling the story of his friendship with another man going back to their college years and time in the resistance.
Magical realism runs through this anthology. People turn into hyenas. A bun flies through a city and to another country. Ghosts narrate their deaths. Death haunts Addis Ababa. The editor’s story, “Dust, Ash, Flight” tells the story of a photographer on an international effort to recover and identify the dead in mass graves. “The Ostrich” tells of a woman haunted by a spot on the road where she saw a dead man. The stories are infused with magic.
Addis Ababa Noir was a disappointment for me. It didn’t really feel like noir despite the grim nature of stories. Some of this may be my own failing to appreciate a different literary aesthetic, but for me, too many of the stories seemed unresolved. They just ended. I realize this is a cultural failing on my part to just accept that the idea of story may be very different and what feels unresolved to me may be exactly what is valued there. The stories do create a strong sense of place. Characters are mostly complex and intriguing. There is a lot to like, but my expectations of the Noir series are high.
I received an e-galley of Addis Ababa Noir from the publisher through Edelweiss.