On 3 October 1935, 200,000 soldiers of the Italian army, commanded by Colonel Carlo Fucelli, crossed the Mareb River dividing Ethiopia from the Italian colony of Eritrea without a prior declaration of war. Three hundred kilometres away, an Ethiopian soldier named Kidane began to prepare his men for battle, but within a year Emperor Haile Selassie, anticipating his demise, had fled to Bath in England. The news spread across Ethiopia – only for the emperor to stage a remarkable return, flanked by two female bodyguards and backed by an army of women.
This is not a summary of the Second Italo-Ethiopian War but the rough plot of Maaza Mengiste’s second, now Booker-shortlisted novel, The Shadow King. It is true that the Italians crossed the Mareb on 3 October, but their commander was one Marshal Emilio De Bono. And the emperor did in fact flee to England, departing his homeland on a train to Djibouti with Mussolini’s tacit agreement. His return did not come for another five years, in 1941, following the Italian defeat by the British.