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New York ‘Literary Idol’ Releases Debut Novel!

Two years ago, when we published six stories by budding New York writers — and were tacky enough to ask our readers to vote on them — we expected the battle for a new "Literary Idol" to be close and hard-fought. But Maaza Mengiste, an Ethiopian-born would-be novelist who was then still an NYU writing student, won twice as many votes as the second-place contestant with the daringly earnest story of an Ethiopian doctor who mercifully kills a torture victim in revolution-torn Ethiopia. It was an excerpt from a then-untitled novel, but it didn't take Mengiste long to get a deal. This week, Norton publishes Beneath the Lion's Gaze, a novel that fulfills all the potential Mengiste demonstrated in that vivid passage. The doctor's flight from Ethiopia (some of it drawn from Mengiste's own family history) melds personal detail and postcolonial history in the manner of The Last King of Scotland and The Kite Runner, but it's Mengiste's lush yet economical writing that really sets it apart. Pick one up at Mengiste's reading and launch party this Thursday Saturday at Happy Ending.

Photo: Stuart O'Sullivan