It is just as well that Ras (the word literally means ‘head’, but is often translated as ‘duke’) Kassa, when he fled from Addis Ababa in May 1936 in the face of an advancing Italian army with his cousin the emperor Haile Selassie, took his youngest son, Asserate, with him. Had he not done so, this rather splendid book, written by Asserate’s own son, would never have appeared. It has been translated very well from German, even though the author speaks beautiful English (as a lifelong member of the Travellers Club should).
Asserate’s three older brothers stayed behind to organise the Ethiopian resistance to the invaders. Haile Selassie, his entourage and Ras Kassa left by train for Djibouti on 2 May. On 19 December the eldest of the three brothers, Wondossen Kassa, was trapped by Captain Farello’s banda in a cave near Lalibela, taken prisoner and shot as a rebel on the orders of General Tracchia. Three days later Aberra and Asfa-Wossen, the two remaining brothers, were treacherously arrested at a truce parley, led out of Tracchia’s tent by a group of carabinieri and shot at dusk in the square of their own ancestral fief of Fikke.
Asserate survived to return home five years later, arriving with the emperor and Orde Wingate in Addis Ababa on 5 May 1941 to a triumphant, ululating welcome. Those five years of exile, spent by Haile Selassie – always, like most exiles, short of money – in Bath, were the most