The third installment of Ambau’s (Desta and the Winds of Washaa Umera, 2013, etc.) YA fantasy series, set in 1960s Ethiopia, continues the adventures of a young shepherd boy on an epic search to find a magic ancestral coin.
The story chronicles approximately three years of teenager Desta’s life after he leaves his home to pursue his education in a distant town. Finding himself homeless with no money, he instead relies on his positive existential philosophy to overcome the hardships that threaten to derail his twofold dream of getting an education and finding the twin of a coin that his father possesses. Years earlier, Desta’s grandfather’s spirit revealed that the young man might be the one to fulfill a prophecy of reuniting the two magical coins; King Solomon had made them thousands of years ago for the descendants of his own two children. Desta, who sees the whole world as his extended family, finds work where he can to survive. He gets into a new school, and quickly becomes a standout student with a voracious appetite for learning. But after he suffers physical and emotional torment outside of school, he’s forced to ask himself whether his education—and his quest—is worth the steep cost. This story, powered by vivid descriptions of an Ethiopia of decades past, is much more than an allegory about a young boy—it’s a cultural and historical experience. Ambau creates a narrative that has universal thematic appeal, but is also undeniably fueled by Ethiopian culture and perspective. For example, when Desta receives unexpected monetary support from an older brother, he says: “This is what the desert must feel like when it receives a sudden shower from out of the blue sky.” This immersive African parable should appeal to young and adult readers alike—even if a bottle of tella and a slice of spiced honey bread aren’t included.
An equally entertaining and edifying tale of Africa.
Desta stole my heart from the first pages of volume 1. It’s a culturally rich and magical journey that in this the third installment had me wistful about turning that final page. Gimme Desta 4! This series is truly for the young at heart and not just the young.
Getty Ambau is a master of beautifully elegant and spare description. He delivers us directly into Desta’s “shoes” (if only he wore them) and it’s up to us to hold on for the ride. Thanks to Ambau’s attention to the specifics of his culture, I feel I’ve actually been to Ethiopia.
The character of Desta is highly relatable, even as enchantment and the supernatural take hold, and it’s in these magical passages that Desta comes into his own. He’s fragile yet tough, clever but naive, easily frustrated, responsible to a fault, and has a heart of 24-karat gold.
This is an epic story that thrills, pulling us joyfully along. Desta flies with the ghostly Eleni, communes with wild animals, and charms the pants off everyone he meets, all while acing his studies and growing gradually and steadily into a man.
I can’t wait for what’s next.
-Merrill Gillaspie, writer
Desta’s journey continues to inspire us. His unwillingness to accept failure or defeat, his positive outlook–no matter his circumstances, his big heart and big dreams and his ability to find meaning and purpose even in the worst of situations–make him an endearing personality from whom we can draw our own strength and courage. READ THIS BOOK! You’ll be glad you did.
-Dr. Helen Bonner, author of Cry Dance, Dolphin Papers and others.
Ambau deftly brings together all the separate elements of Desta’s saga–history, family, culture, ritual, numerology, legend, and magic–in an account as forceful and finely etched as if told by an eyewitness to events. We are held in the sway of a boy whose world is hemmed in by privation, homelessness, and misfortune, yet wrests his destiny for a higher purpose, believing that all he does is predetermined, and his quest unstoppable . . . This is a gripping and inspiring parable for readers of any age struggling to meet life’s challenges!
-Vinny Cusenza, writer