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11 Books About Ethiopia to Learn about Their Culture In Case You Never Get to Visit

11 Books about Ethiopia for your around the world reading challenge so you can learn about their culture, people and experiences in case you never get the chance to visit. Plus free printable around the world reading challenge workbook and more fun ideas to enhance your reading travel experience from the comfort of your home.

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This year I’m tackling my Travel the World in Books perpetual reading challenge differently and reading one book per week set in a different country for 2023. Reading around the world helps you learn about other cultures, and its people’s histories and experiences to help you become a more broad minded, empathetic and compassionate person. As much as we’d like to travel the world, it’s much easier to at least feel like we are there when we read books set in different countries that really give us a sense of time and place that is different than what we know.

First up for my personal Around the World Reading Challenge 2023 is reading books set in Africa. Africa and South America are definitely where my reading has been lacking so I am heading there first in 2023 so i have some fresh start and new year energy on my side.

Fiction Books About Ethiopia

1. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (contemporary fiction)

Cutting for Stone always seems to be highly recommended for books about Ethiopia. All the bookish friends I’ve talked to about this recommend this book.

Here’s what Cutting for Stone is about:

Cutting for Stone starts out with Dr. Marian Stone describing his and his twin brother’s arrival into the world at Missing Hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. They were born of an Indian nun and a British doctor who met in Ethiopia. Their mother dies in childbirth and their father eventually disappears. Both sons share a love for medicine and to their downfall, the same woman.

Marion flees Ethiopia during its revolution to go to America and work in a poor New York City hospital. But the “past catches up to him” and he has to trust his estranged father and brother with his life.

My thoughts so far:

I started Cutting for Stone on audio (get up to 2 free audiobooks with an audible premium plus trial) and I just loved it so much that I also downloaded it on my Kindle so that I could highlight the quotes I wanted to remember. As a patient of chronic illness and seeing my share of doctors, what struck me most in the beginning was the writing about the way he cared for the patients, with the dignity about the quality of life for patients we wish all doctors had. The writing is fantastic, I hope I love it as much as everyone else does!

It’s the book I’ve chosen for my book set in Ethiopia (week 1 of my around the world reading challenge) but here are other recommendations I found in my research.

Buy Cutting for Stone to support an independent bookstore | Buy Cutting for Stone on Amazon

2. The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste (historical fiction)

Shortlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize and named best book of the year by the New York Times, NPR, ElleTime, and more

What the Shadow King is about:

The Shadow King is set during WWII and Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia, women soldiers made an impact on the war but were excluded from historical records and credit. The Shadow King tells Hirut’s story. When Mussolini invades and destroys Ethiopia’s strongest forces, the Emperor goes into exile. To give the men the strength to continue fighting, Hirut dresses a simple peasant as the emperor and herself becomes his guard. She motivates other women to take up arms in the face of one of the world’s most notorious dictators.

Buy the Shadow King to support an independent bookstore | Buy the Shadow King on Amazon

3. King of Kings by Wilbur Smith (historical fiction)

The King of Kings is the sequel to Triumph in the Sun (set in Egypt) but the King of Kings is set in present day Ethiopia.

Here’s what King of Kings is about:

In Cairo 1888, Penrod Ballantyne and his finacee, Amber Benbrook are very much in love. An ex-lover of Penrod’s surfaces and it makes Amber question his character. Amber leaves Penrod and takes a dangerous trip to Abyssinia (present day Ethiopia) with her twin sister and her husband to establish a silver mine.

Penrod starts down a dangerous path of his own, turning to solace in Cairo’s opium dens. A friend in the Italian army rescues Pendrod and warns him about the threat to Abyssinia (and his love).

Will Penrod and Amber find safety and make it back together in time before the invasion and upheaval begins?

Buy King of Kings to support an independent bookstore | Buy King of Kings on Amazon

4. The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu (Ethiopian immigrant experience)

As a child of East Indian immigrants, I am drawn to books about immigrants. Both what drives them to abandon their homeland and seek refuge in another place and what their experience is when they arrive. They often dream of a better life and are often met with physical, verbal, and mental hostility, abuse, discrimination and resentment.

I think The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears sounds interesting since it details both the main character growing up and experiencing the revolution in Ethiopia and his immigrant experience in the US.

Here’s what The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears is about:

Sepha Stephanos flees Ethiopia during the Revolution when he sees soldiers beat his father to the edge of death. He lands in the United States and 17 years later, is running a grocery store in a poor, urban neighboorhood in Washington, Dc. He befriends two other African immigrants who both long for their homeland as they wonder if life is really any better than what he left.

Sepha finds comfort and friendship in two new neighbors, a white woman and her biracial daughter. But he and his found family are threatened again by racial violence as he tries to create a new home.

Buy the Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears to support an independent bookstore | Buy the Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears on Amazon

Nonfiction Books About Ethiopia

5. In Search of King Solomon’s Mines by Tahir Shah

Reading the description of this nonfiction books about Ethiopia sounds like an Indiana Jones movie….

What In Search of King Solomon’s Mines is about:

Well the title does give you an idea of what the book is about, not much more to say. Author Tahir Shah describes his quest to find the legendary King Solomon’s mines that had yet to be found combining scientific, folklore and Biblical analysis to find the legendary treasure.

Buy In Search of King Solomon’s Mines on Amazon

6. Out of Thin Air: Running Wisdom and Magic from Above the Clouds in Ethiopia by Michael Crawley

My son has been running long distance for his high school teams and he’s been working so hard to beat his personal times. He’s a sports lover and loves reading nonfiction sports books. I love getting my boys books related to their current passions so I found Out of Thin Air about what makes Ethiopian runners elite in long distance/marathon races. I started flipping through the pictures and it looks pretty fascinating.

Winner of the Margaret Mead Award 2022 and longlisted for the Royal Society of Literature’s Ondaatje prize 2021 (evoking the spirit of a place).

What Out of Thin Air is about:

Through reading this book you will come to understand that the heart and soul of running are to be found in Ethiopia.’ Haile Gebrselassie

‘Engaging, warm and humane… A delight’ TLS

‘Full of wonderful insights and lessons from a world where the ability to run is viewed as something almost mysterious and magical.’ Adharanand Finn, author of Running with the Kenyans

Ethiopia is a place where I have been told that energy is controlled by angels and demons and where witchdoctors can help you to acquire another runner’s power. It is a place where an anonymous runner in the forest told me, miming an imaginary scoreboard and with a completely straight face, that he had dreamt that he would run 10km in 25 minutes. It is a place where they tell me that the air at Mount Entoto will transform me into a 2.08 marathon runner. It is a place, in short, of wisdom and magic, where dreaming is still very much alive.

Why does it make sense to Ethiopian runners to get up at 3am to run up and down a hill? Who would choose to train on almost impossibly steep and rocky terrain, in hyena territory? And how come Ethiopian men hold six of the top ten fastest marathon times ever?

Michael Crawley spent fifteen months in Ethiopia training alongside (and sometimes a fair way behind) runners at all levels of the sport, from night watchmen hoping to change their lives to world class marathon runners, in order to answer these questions. Follow him into the forest as he attempts to keep up and get to the heart of their success.


Buy Out of Thin Air to support an independent bookstore | Buy Out of Thin Air on Amazon

7. The Hospital by the River by Dr. Catherine Hamlin with John Little

I love reading autobiographies of people’s experiences as they visit other countries. In the Hospital by the River, we learn about two doctors who make a tremendous impact on Ethiopian women’s health.

What The Hospital by the River is about:

The Hospital by the River is the autobiography of Australian Ob/gyns Catherine and Reg Hamlin who established an obstetric fistula hospital in Ethiopia that has operated on more than 20,000 women who suffer from this debilitating childbirth injury. The Hamlin’s story actually inspired Abraham Verghese to write Cutting for Stone that I mentioned above.

The reviews say that the writing doesn’t do this incredibly inspirational story justice. But if you’re looking for a story about how two people can make a difference with their hard work and compassion for less fortunate women, this may still inspire you. At 308 pages, it’s not too long so may be worth the read.

Buy the Hospital by the River on Amazon

Young Adult Books about Ethiopia

8. Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein (historical fiction)

Black Dove, White Raven looks like really good!

What Black Dove, White Raven is about:

Emilia and Teo’s lives changed in a fiery, terrifying instant when a bird strike brought down the plane their stunt pilot mothers were flying. Teo’s mother died immediately, but Em’s survived, determined to raise Teo according to his late mother’s wishes-in a place where he won’t be discriminated against because of the color of his skin. But in 1930s America, a white woman raising a black adoptive son alongside a white daughter is too often seen as a threat.

Seeking a home where her children won’t be held back by ethnicity or gender, Rhoda brings Em and Teo to Ethiopia, and all three fall in love with the beautiful, peaceful country. But that peace is shattered by the threat of war with Italy, and teenage Em and Teo are drawn into the conflict. Will their devotion to their country, its culture and people, and each other be their downfall or their salvation?

In the tradition of her award-winning and bestselling Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein brings us another thrilling and deeply affecting novel that explores the bonds of friendship, the resilience of young pilots, and the strength of the human spirit.


Buy Black Dove, White Raven to support an independent bookstore | Buy Black Dove, White Raven on Amazon

9. The Garbage King by Elizabeth Laird (fiction)

The Garbage King is the story of homeless boys who have to survive the streets of Ethiopia.

What the Garbage King is about:

Mamo’s mother dies leaving him alone in the slums of Addis Ababa. He’s stolen by a child trafficker and sold to a cruel farmer. He escapes and meets rich and educated Dani, another runaway with a totally different story.

Amazon said the reading age is 9-12 years old but as some reviewers said there are hints of prostitution in the book, I included it in the young adult section for purposes of this post.

Buy the Garbage King to support an independent bookstore | Buy The Garbage King on Amazon

Kids Books About Ethiopia

If you’re wanting your kids to join you for the Around the World Reading Challenge or just want a shorter book, here are some middle grade books and younger kids books about Ethiopia.

10. Fire On the Mountain by Jane Kurtz (picture book)

What Fire on the Mountain is about:

Challenged by his master to spend a bitter-cold night alone in the mountains, Fire on the Mountain is about an Ethiopian boy who bets his future that he will succeed.

When his master refuses to recognize the boy’s victory, the boy and his sister decide to beat the rich man at his own game. It’s all in Jane Kurtz’s fantastic tale, Fire on the Mountain– support an independent bookstore | buy on Amazon


11. 40 Facts about Ethiopia: for Kids, Fun Facts about Ethiopia, Sports, Nature, Food, Culture, Continent and More

Buy 40 Facts about Ethiopia on Amazon

Map Your Around the World Reading Challenge

i enjoy marking off the countries as I read about them. Here are some fun ways to mark off Ethiopia and map your around the world reading challenge accomplishments:

Free Around the World Reading Challenge Workbook

Get a free 40+ page workbook to make reading around the world even more fun. Log or map the books you read, and track your daily reading for the Around the World Reading Challenge!

I love planning and bullet journaling and creating free printables to share. So I went completely overboard on this free around the world reading challenge workbook with all sorts of fun trackers and worksheets so you can follow along with me or create your own around the world reading challenge. I especially love the travel suitcase reading tracker! When you subscribe to my weeklyish reading newsletter you’ll get my weekly reading recaps, challenge news and fun bookish discussions. You’ll also get access to my Exclusive Subscriber Library that has free book club discussion question printables, book bucket lists and more.

More Reading Challenge Activities to Learn about Ethiopia

Ethiopian Cookbooks

Add a delicious flair to your around the world reading challenge, and try and make a few of the recipes out of an Ethiopian cookbook. I’ve been to an Ethiopian restaurant once and it was delicious and reminiscent of Indian food (my parents are from India, so Indian food is my comfort food because my mom is the best cook!). The food was served family style on a huge platter with their bread (similar to Indian dosai), dal and curry. I loved it!

Here are some Ethiopian cookbooks to try and get the flavor of Ethiopia while you read about Ethiopia.

Fun Puzzles and Coloring Books about Ethiopia

When I’m listening to audiobooks I love to either color or do a puzzle with that theme. Here are some fun puzzles coloring books about Ethiopia to try…

Well there you have it, 11 awesome books about Ethiopia to learn about their people, culture and history and even more ideas to enhance your reading experience by mapping your travels, cooking food from Ethiopia or doing puzzles and coloring while you listen to an audiobook about Ethiopia! Which one(s) are you going to try first?

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