Book Review: DERTOGADA

By T, Staffer of De Birhan Media 
15 March 2012



Author: Yismake Worku  

Translator: Zelalem Nigussie
Paper Cover: 358 pages  
Publisher: Unity Publishers (2012)  
Language: English  
ISBN-13: 978-9-994-48431-7
Genre: Fiction
Price: $13.26
Dertogada was first published in Ethiopia’s national language, Amharic in 2009 by a young person called Yismake Worku, 22 years old at the time of publication. The eminence of his book reached us here in the West soon after it hit the local shelves and managed to grasp the local readership’s thirst for locally produced globally themed book. Most Ethiopian contemporary writers have been writing Amharic novels that mainly focus on local issues, plots, characters and themes making them incapable of reaching foreign readers. The themes, characters and plots of most Ethiopian novels were confined to Ethiopia.  Dertogada, I found it to be an answer to that. Yismake integrated local stories with international flavours making it a book suitable for readers of the globalised world.  Apparently, it is now translated into English making it available for international readership. I read very few fictious novels and books in Amharic, English or French. I prefer nonfiction. Dertogada is one of the few fiction novels that I read and was worth spending the money, time and attentiveness.
The book is fiction. However, it integrates and bases itself on real personalities, places, history and incidences. The book also provides a detailed description of the facts using various evidences and references. It is clear that from reading the book, one can find out that the author did a lot of research on what he was writing or had a personal experience of the issues.
The story begins with a flashback. Amazingly constructed with arithmetic poem around Laurite Tsegaye Gebremedhin’s famous poem called the Passion of Peter, Dertogada requires the reader’s watchfulness, fusion and attention to detail. The plot of the book is an imbroglio in that it revolves around continents, various sequences and many causes and effects. You can also find many points of climax while reading the narrative thus keeping the reader intact to the action. 
Speaking about the theme of his book, Yismake in one of his recent interviews said,
Dertogada is the song of the Renaissance; Dertogada is about filling the generation gap; Dertogada is about searching ourselves, Dertogada is about working together for the common good; Dertogada is about love and promise; Dertogada is the picture of this time; Dertogada is about the need of social, political… revolution of Ethiopia, Dertogada is about brain… Dertogada is the song of freedom of this generation… For me, it is better to listen these all songs and keep silent.

The author starts the book listing very important Ethiopian scientists that have disappeared from world-class research and innovation centres and then quickly plunges the reader to a 1969 colder plot around Abune Petros’ Statute in Addis Abeba and ends with a few questions and surprises for the reader to ponder. The story then quickly fast forwards to 2004 California, USA as chapter one begins. So much happens in the prologue before readers get a chance to know any of the characters very well. The main character of the narrative revolves around the life of an Ethiopian NASA scientist Dr. Engineer Kitaw Ejigu (Shagiz in the book) and the book is dedicated to this same NASA Scientist who was involved in a political movement of unseating the regime in his home country Ethiopia, before he was pronounced dead in 2006 in USA. Engineer Shagiz becomes a highly needed man that two superpower nations attempt control him while the government of his native Ethiopia dash to eliminate him. Dr. Engineer Kitaw Ejigu had founded and was Chairman of Ethiopian National United Front.  

It also heavily dwells on the world of spying involving the world’s biggest spying agencies all after same Ethiopian scientist using Ethiopian recruits. The actions take place in high-tech centres in U.S.A, Ethiopia, Israel and Italy. The monasteries of Tana, Ethiopia for the first time are built into an enthralling plot with the most industrialised and high-tech Western world, via Dertogada. Sebhat Gebreegziabher and Yofetahe Seyom (PhD) write the forward and praise for the book.  Dr. Taye Assefa, Mesfin Habtemariam and Capital Newspaper write the blubs of the book.

Yismake uses very precious, quotable statements and phrases throughout the book. Some of the statements expressed by the author and characters are:
·        This nation needs wise composers who can give it a sweet tone of harmony.(p.11)
·        You have absolutely succeeded in proving to the world, that Africans are also people with the brilliance of intellect capable of being trained and nurtured to the highest possible level of intelligence, if and when they have the opportunity (p. 25).
·        An author who was afraid to tell the truth about the ugliness of the regime and who tells about its viciousness after the regime had fallen off the throne shall be like a dog that barks after the hyena had already gone. (p. 91-92)
·        What it takes to make a change is not necessarily the efforts of the multitude, but the efforts of few determined individuals. (p. 114)
·        My country is being a prey to traitors and reductionists. Its people have become submissive to their superiors. …Its youth is being persecuted through their own forced actions of exile in search of a livelihood. (p. 194)
·        The criteria for a person to rule over a country should be intellectual brilliance, not tribal membership. (P. 252)
·        Ants can cross huge rivers on a bridge that they built by joining their bodies together as a chain. (p. 278)
The statements demonstrate the writer’s well-built beliefs and visions. Dertogada contained a complex story build up style with a great inspiration and design of a new Ethiopia. Dertogada encompasses some of these overarching themes: love, history, technology, espionage, faithfulness, renaissance, freedom and development.
In general, the book listens and echoes the heartbeats, visions and wishes of the new generation for Ethiopia. It won’t be surprising if we conclude that the book gave a broader policy advice for the regime and made a clarion call for Ethiopian scholars spread out all around the world to stand and look back.
The English version of the book is written in simple comprehendible English that can easily be understood by any reader with an average English fluency. However, it also contains some grammatical and spelling errs. While the general translation is up to the standard and comprehensible, there are a few linguistic and typo errors in the usage of nouns, pronouns, punctuation and verbs. For example, “acrss” to say “across” (P. 56), “She love him” to say “she loves him” (p.57), “are going ?” to say “are you going” (P. 74), “Mirage spokes” to say “Mirage speaks” (P. 90 ), “tell” to say “tale”  (p. 169), “…did you came to me?” to say “.. did you come to me?” and many other minor grammatical and typographical errors. The second edition should carefully look at some of these errors.
Secondly, the name of the characters such as Mirage, Shagiz, Meroda, Zipporah are strange for local readers that readers may forget the names and roles of each character as the stories build up and the plots pass through exposition, rising action and climax. Thirdly, there are some narratives that become highly scientific and hard to believe or deviates and clashes with the realist and grounded aspects of the book; one such case is the vehicle that Gera uses. The use and characterisation of the vehicle in the narrative is so incredulously constructed and sounds like an extreme fable. The finishing of the storyline resembles the customary Hollywood romantic movies whose finales are easy to predict. Given the current state of Amharic literature, dominated by translations of foreign works, the similarity of the ending is understandable. Apart, from that Dertogada is an original and shining contribution to Ethiopian and international literature. 
I give an A+ recommendation of this book. I advise all my English speaking friends and Ethiopian compatriots to read this book.


  1. well, u said “I advise all my English speaking friends and Ethiopian compatriots to read this book.” And What I said to a friend of mine when he told me about the translated version is “to give English speakers another reason to mock at our intelligence?”

  2. Dear Anonymous commenter,

    What do you mean? English is no our first language and the translator tried his best. The book shows the super intellegnce of the writer and our poeple. Nothing to be mocked at. May be didn’t get what you meant.

  3. Hello De Birhan! Its good to see that some people are reading my translation. Let me introduce myself before though.
    My name is Zelalem Nigussie, I ‘ve been in the translation buissness for around 12 years but, to everybody’s surprise my B.Sc is in Physics. I’m 35 and determined to live a long life.
    I’ve read the review you wrote and I am glad to see that you’ve given me the two honest opinions I’ve been expecting from real readers. I would like to put them in my own words and my own perspectives.
    Let me start from the last – errors. In truth you De Berhan are, in a way, one of my first proof readers.I have gone through a lot of hardships during the translation, such as translating Tsegaye G/M The Passion of Peter. Do you think I would let ‘which Abba comforts’ in V_96 ruin the flow of a poem thay I spent many nights trying to make it rythm in accord with the Amharic? NO! BTW it shoud be just “Abba comfort”. What Im trying to say here is that, I was unable to find editors or proof readers who are fluent in the language. Also as lots of writers would agree i dont like computer screens. They are like vampires.So i love my pen and paper. Then you can imagin the typo errors. So for over a month i cheked and checked again.But at last i fainted in exhaustion. That was when my dear publishers decided enough was enough.
    The second point is that, I belive in beauty as much as i belive in perfection.So I was thinking about going out to the world and even to HOLLYWOOD when I was writting it. Thats all folks. Anything more just ask.THANK YOU SOOO MUCH!
    Translator of DERTOGADA

  4. Dear Zelalem,

    Happy that you responded re: the review. I must say you have done a very wonderful work again. Yismake imagined high and authored this amazing book of complex plots and formations. You laboured in translating it. I was putting myself in your shoes when reading it and asked myself “Would I do this?”. It is amazing as you are and said, most literature students don’t end up in this business- guys like you- engineers and doctors do the writing and translation often. Computers make us senf…good that you still use the manual option. I would love to read your other translations and want to know the typology you use to do the translation there are various types as you know- word by word, literary, contextual and the like…
    You don’t know how amazed I was on the way you translated the Passion of Peter (Peter beziach seat). It was I must say a perfect translation. I would like to post it on my Facebook wall if you permit me. The typo errors are minute and I can inbox you all the errors on FB so that you check them on the next edition. I promise to advertise the book here. Evenif, I don’t the book is well written and translated. Young men like you are jewels of Ethiopia. God Bless You.

    One Love

    De Birhan

  5. wow! it touches my heart!
    you Ethiopians lets unite as one ethiopian family to make yismaeks dream come true! it is the right time to wake up!!!!

  6. wow! it touches my heart!
    you Ethiopians lets unite as one ethiopian family to make yismaeks dream come true! it is the right time to wake up!!!!psa

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