A fascinating narrative excursion into a bizarre episode in 19th century Ethiopian and British imperial history featuring a remote African despot and his monstrous European-built gun. On one of Addis Ababa's main roundabouts today sits a huge recently installed mortar. This is a replica of 'Sevastopol', a 70-ton lump of ordnance commissioned by one of the most extraordinary leaders Africa has ever produced -- King of Kings of Ethiopia, the Emperor Theodore. In 1867, as his kingdom collapsed around him, Theodore retreated to his mountain-top stronghold in Magdala. It took his army six months to haul 'Sevastopol' through the gauges and passes of the highlands. Sixty miles to the north, a British expeditionary force under Sir Robert Napier -- consisting of more than 10,000 fighting men, at least as many followers and 20,000 pack-animals, including a number of Indian elephants -- had been ferried to the Red Sea Coast and built a railway line through the desert. Their object: to rescue the British consul and sixty Europeans, held prisoner by the increasingly erratic Theodore, who had taken to massacring his prisoners-of-war and pitching captives over the cliffs of Magdala. The resulting fate of Theodore and his mortar forms the climax to this strange extravaganza, in which an isolated medieval kingdom came dramatically face-to-face with an ascendant Europe. Philip Marsden tells the tale with all his proven narrative skill, deep love and first hand knowledge of Ethiopia. Includes PS Section / Impressive narrative history that reads like fiction, by one of our best travel-writers. / The Magdala campaign was one of the most revealing episodes in Britain's colonial history. / Philip Marsden's most recent book, 'The Chains of Heaven', was also set in Ethiopia and garnered exceptional reviews.
Philip Marsden has written several highly-praised and award-winning travel books -- including 'The Crossing Place: A Journey among the Americans', 'The Bronski House', 'The Spirit-Wrestlers' and 'Chains of Heaven: An Ethiopian Romance' -- and one novel, 'The Main Cages'. He lives in Cornwall.
'A masterly account...Marsden's compelling narrative is full of gems... "The Barefoot Emperor" 'warms the insides' in specifically Ethiopian ways. It's a triumph; a work of entirely unpredicted necessity.' Independent 'Compelling!a balanced, full-bodied account!of these extraordinary events!Marsden, an expert on Ethiopia, is also a gifted storyteller and his narrative has pace and, above all, suspense.' Sunday Times 'Marsden has done an amazing job of reconstruction! wonderfully strange.' Daily Express 'An amazing story!a page-turning narrative of a sort I haven't read in years.' Spectator 'Marsden has combined his outstanding skills as a travel writer - his intimate knowledge of a foreign clime, his instinctive sympathy for a lost culture, his wonderfully evocative, almost poetic prose style - with the research talents of a first-rate sleuth to produce a quite spellbinding work of historical biography ' Sunday Telegraph 'Marsden first visited Ethiopia in the 1980s; his understanding of the country is manifest on every page. His narrative ... is beautifully paced, and his story is incredible.' Daily Telegraph 'Philip Marsden is a wonderful writer who tells the tragic story of Tewodros with sympathy, elegance and a knowledge of Ethiopia that few Western writers can match. His book makes a fine present for Christmas.' Literary Review 'Marsden knows a great story when he sees one!in a tale of such extremes, Marsden keeps his head, letting massacre and vulnerability speak largely for themselves!Tewodros's end, surrounded by just five followers, is as moving as either he or his biographer could wish.' Guardian 'Marsden is required reading on Ethiopia...accessible and masterly...a well-crafted narrative which skips along with admirable pace and gusto.' Scotsman