The Anglo-Ethiopian Society

Book Review - The Girl Who Smelled Like Orange - inde bertukan yem't'shetewa lidj

Tsehay Alemayhu

Reviewer - Geoffrey Ben-Nathan


This bi-lingual book is for children aged 4 to 9. It will be of enormous importance to Ethiopian children in the English speaking diaspora whose first language is now English but whose parents understandably wish them to learn to read and write Amharic; it will also be equally useful to children in Ethiopia who have the same problem the other way round.

The story itself is rather tame and anodyne. It revolves around Lulit, a young Ethiopian girl in Ethiopia, who is drawn to concentrate her outdoor play around an orange tree in her garden to the exclusion of almost everything and everybody else including her principal friends Sophia and Elias. Her attention to the orange tree and her love of oranges attracts the attention of the elderly next door neighbour, Emama Balchu, who greatly approves and composes a song, on the healthiness of eating oranges, in her honour. The children are dutifully respectful. That is about it.

The book is supported by UnLtd (to be pronounced, 'unlimited'). This organisation distributes funds provided by the UK Millennium Commission to people whom its website says 'can transform the world in which they live'. We call these people 'social entrepreneurs'.

Tsehay Alemayehu is without a shadow of doubt a social entrepreneur. Her mission is to serve the cause of the diaspora Ethiopian community. She began to write at age 13 and became a member of the Ethiopian Youth Writers Group. Moving to London in 1991, she published a magazine, the Ethiopian Messenger, for the benefit of the Ethiopian community. This second book follows an earlier bi-lingual book, Zeraf, also supported by UnLtd and published in 2006.

The storyline does seem to pay more attention to today's perceived green agenda, encouraged by UnLtd, than it does to the passions of today's youngsters who, if my own grandchildren are typical, are into the dashing adventures of Ben Ten and the characters of Cartoon Network. But to note this is to miss the point. Tsehay Alemayehu's book is vital to us as a teaching aid: A4 in size; 14 point (at least) English and Amharic characters; virtually parallel text; and beautiful illustrations - the book's form is more important than its content. To anyone teaching one language in terms of the other, this book is the perfect teaching aid. For this alone it is highly to be recommended at its very reasonable price.

Tseyhay Alemayehu's didactic mission towards Ethiopian children extends to all of us non-Ethiopians too. Her website, www.teretbooks.co.uk, has a selection called 'alphabets' in the menu. If you click on this, you will find a link to YouTube clips posted by The Lion of Judah Society in the USA; here you will be able to hear the whole fidel (the Ethiopian syllabary) recited to you character by character as well as listen to several basic Amharic lessons. This is an absolutely indispensable aid to those ferendj who wish to embark upon the first stage of the journey of acquiring Amharic.

The Girl Who Smelled Like Orange. Tsehay Alemayehu Illustrated by Alex Teffera. Teret Books, London 2009.
Paperback ISBN: 9780955434310
20 pages
295 x 210 mm
Price £7.99

First Published in News File Winter 2009

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