The Anglo-Ethiopian Society

Book Review - The Chains of Heaven

Philip Marsden

Reviewer - Anne Parsons


I read Philip Marsden’s previous book A Far Country (actually published under the name Marsden-Smedley) just before I first visited Ethiopia and remember it fondly. I was therefore looking forward to this latest instalment of his travels in the country.

Chains of Heaven recounts a journey between Lalibela and Aksum – all on foot and with a variety of pack animals and local guides. Historical tales and legends are interspersed in between the accounts of the day-to-day events.

The book is extremely successful in capturing the atmosphere of this wonderful country. A couple of my favourite sentences read “The heat was stifling. We found a small migib bet and ate. Then I went out to sit under a bamboo awning, to watch nothing happen on the wide and empty main road.” There are wonderful descriptions of landscape and the short historical notes are vivid. But the descriptions of the contemporary people he meets (apart from his guides and travelling companions) are somewhat thinly written which seems a shame. The only map is a little hand-drawn one that cannot show the churches or monasteries visited with any accuracy. I would also have liked colour photographs (the black and white ones are printed not on glossy art paper but on the whitish-cream text paper which I doubt does them justice; and surprisingly the photo chosen for the book jacket (this one is colour) was taken not on this trip but in the 1980s.

This book is an interesting read and should inspire travellers to try to visit some of the more out of the way places.

The Chains of Heaven by Philip Marsden, published by HarperCollins, London, 2005.
Hardback, 298 pages, illustrated.
ISBN: 0007173474
Price £14.99

First Published in News File Summer 2006

Opinions expressed in the articles are those of the authors and not necessarily the views of the Society.
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