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Plot - Northward

A cinematic illustration of a young Ethiopian boy, Leu, and his elderly grandmother, Aja, standing in a dusty village at sunset. Leu has a pensive look and his grandmother holds a walking stick, both gazing into the distance. The village is cast in warm sunset hues with modest clay houses and villagers in the background, depicting a serene yet somber atmosphere amid signs of recent distress.

Literary plot genre: drama | Addiss Ababa, 2001

Main characters

Leu is a bank clerk living in London. One evening at dinner with friends, the teasing of a black boy who delivers food to his door gives him the reason to tell his story in the first person, seeing himself, an Ethiopian child, the last of six siblings.

Leu is endowed with great maturity and perceptiveness for the newly turned twelve years old. He lives a humble but peaceful existence with his siblings, his father a teacher, his mother looks after the house and his grandmother. The village is inhabited by honest people, peasants and shepherds, who share the little they possess.

The call to adventure

One day, a raid by one of the many paramilitary gangs infesting the area turns Leu's existence upside down. He is forced to witness from afar the massacre of family members from which he escapes only because he had gone to the well with his grandmother Aja. The two are left alone.

The grandmother, a woman without culture or education, but with a strong and determined character takes care of Leu. In the village, Leu's family was not the only one affected. Poverty becomes absolute and there is even a lack of essentials, first and foremost water. Above all, there is a lack of hope.

The conflict

The grandmother decides to embark on an impossible journey to save Leu, the last remaining grandchild. The most fragile couple that can exist cannot stay in her home. Thus begins a desperate journey told through the eyes of a child. Nothing is taken for granted and each day seems worse than the last. From Addiss Ababa to Eritrea then Sudan, to Egypt, then Libya, to cross the sea and reach Italy. The trials follow one another as do the miles of hunger, injustice and suffering. Leu will be marked by them forever. Europe is a mirage of salvation, but it will not prove to be the Promised Land.

The key

When life is desperation and there is nothing to lose, then even the craziest of journeys-if it creates hope-becomes sensible. The world as seen by a grandmother and a child who never left the African village. Amid suffering, cruelty and much solidarity.

The alternatives

The changes are very simple: one can intervene in the place, the time, the type of protagonist, the choice of narrator... One can range from the Amazon at the time of the Spanish conquest to Persia after the fall of the Shah. One can even design a novel with two voices: the child's and the grandmother's.


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