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By Yared Tibebu

Tower in the Sky is a true love story situated in the tumultuous years of the student movement during the February 1974 Ethiopian Revolution and its bloody aftermath. The central character in the book is Getachew Maru, founder of the group ABYOT and later, an EPRP (Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party) politburo member and youth organizer. The author, Hiwot Teffera, was his girlfriend. She dedicated the book with everlasting love to the man she immensely adored, and loved, even after his death.

Tower in the Sky begins with Khalil Gibran’s poetry from The Prophet:

If in the twilight of memory we should
meet once more, we shall speak again
together and you shall sing to me a deeper song.
And if our hands should meet in another
dream we shall build another tower in the sky.

It appears Hiwot’s yearning for another tower was her vivid memory of engaging in a struggle that changed the social edifice of a nation. Along the way, it also changed her beyond recognition. Her love for Getachew was not the usual teen infatuation. Her love was for his humanity, his will to suffer for truth, his unflinching persona in the face of danger, and his polite but resolute character. She was obsessed with his dedication to ideas and the struggle.

Hiwot’s idea of writing a book was hatched in prison over 30 years ago. But as her quotation from Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound makes clear:

To speak of this is painful for me: to keep silence
is no less pain. On every side is suffering.

While reading the pages of Tower in the Sky, one will suffer along with the writer; agonize over her torment, be affected by her emotions, and pray for her safety. It is a moving story. The author, an innocent 18-year-old from Harrar by 1972, attends the national university, and a simple encounter with a female student who returned from abroad changes her life forever. The returnee arranges for her a meeting with Getachew, and after Hiwot met him at his Afincho Ber hideout, she seems intrigued and maybe enchanted by the meeting and wants to give meaning to her life. She wants to engage in something bigger than herself. And she did.

Tower in the Sky takes us through the Ethiopian political landscape by weaving personal stories of love and courage through narratives of Haile Selassie I University campus life of the early 70s.The account chronicles the ideas that informed the writer, and through her, the generation’s passion, bringing to life the arrest of Getachew and his compatriots in September 1973, the author’s dismissal from the university, the beginning of the February 1974 Revolution, the merger of Abyot and Democracia groups, and the formation of the EPRP in August 1975.

In September 1976 the EPRP leadership changed course, and made an assassination attempt on the Ethiopian military dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam. Hiwot asked Getachew, by then her boyfriend, “So what do you think of the attempt on Mengistu?”

“It was utter insanity. There is no explanation for it. An assassination attempt on a leader amounts to a coup d’état. Killing individuals amounts to terrorism. A party such as ours should not be engaging in things like that. The idea of urban armed struggle is a departure from the path of the struggle outlined at the beginning. The party is treading a dangerous avenue…” was his response.

Getachew’s strategic clarity was unequalled among his peers. It was his honesty and dedication to the cause that equipped him to see the dangers that lay ahead. He was unwilling to barter the strategy for short-term gains. Though his life was cut short, Getachew’s enduring vision was that the elite cannot substitute the people and assure a democratic future; that the people themselves have to participate in their own liberation through hard won struggles. The young generation is now perplexed with the same issues, and Getachew’s sacrifice may help guide them.

Tower in the Sky is not just your regular love story. It is about the ideal of a generation, and the disappointment of multitudes. Four years into her underground activities, when the writer is arrested, we come face to face with revolutionaries on the defensive inside Kefitegna 19. Hiwot describes a group mentality that is unwilling to hear any criticism of the EPRP and its leadership. When one of the inmates, a member of EPRP’s Secretariat Office, Mekonen Bayissa, criticizes the Party, the crowd turns against him. He becomes a public enemy. Hiwot’s decision not to abandon Mekonen also made her a target. Mekonen was executed by the Junta, and Hiwot was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Given the circumstances of imprisonment and torture, the inmates’ defense of their party may be understandable. But, this should have ended after Mekonen paid the ultimate sacrifice. The bitter irony is that Mekonen’s name and character were defiled by those who survived. To this day Mekonen is suspected to be a traitor. Tower in the Sky re-establishes his good name beyond a doubt.

Getachew Maru was also killed at the direction of the Party leadership. He never suspected this.
Hiwot learned of the assassination of her beloved Getachew from the youth league leader Tito Heruy. She was unable to cry. She had tried to warn her loved one, but to no avail. Getachew was unflinching and very optimistic that the party would rectify its ways and that the leadership would change its course. But, his innocence and his trust of the party cost him his life. He was only 27 when he was killed. He was “homegrown” and not exposed to the power politics of Europe and America like his counterparts in the DEMOCRACIA leadership who returned from abroad.

EPRP leaders were thinking politically, and played with power. That may be why they changed the Provisional People’s Government (PPG) tactic into a strategy, and waged urban guerilla warfare to make their strategy a reality. Thousands of unsuspecting youth perished because of the mistakes of the leadership. The leaders used security concerns and the party’s clandestine nature to impose their will. Most of EPRP’s leaders perished along with the youth they led astray. It was a sad ending. In the pages of TOWER IN THE SKY Hiwot portrays the immensity of the carnage by the Dergue. “One family lost five children in one Kebele. Four of their own and the uncle of the four kids…”.

The most fascinating aspect in the book is Hiwot’s continued participation in the struggle even after her boyfriend’s expulsion from the leadership and his assassination. We see in the pages of TOWER IN THE SKY, Hiwot being assigned the most dangerous assignments. Many may ask how one can undertake dangerous missions like these after one’s trust of the party is shaken beyond a doubt. Hiwot and others like her possessed a different level of courage to accomplish what they were able to do.

A single phrase from Gibran’s poetry seems to capture the whole book: “We shall speak again together”. The issues Getachew raised were anchored in the principles and strategies agreed upon during the merger between ABYOT and DEMOCRACIA. However, when the leadership changed course, Getachew was denied the forum to present his case. But Getachew’s truth was written all over the wall for all to see. And it took only months for his fear to become a reality. It became evident very soon that there was no ground to win an urban armed struggle defeating a military dictatorship of the worst type.

Even though it took over 30 years for Tower in the Sky to see the light of day, I do not believe it is too late. I hope Tadelech will also keep the promise she made to Hiwot 30 years ago in prison, and share her husband Berhane Meskel Redda’s life and thoughts. I hope our youth will learn from these experiences and perform better than its predecessors. I hope Hiwot’s book will give life to a nuanced understanding of the truths of our past. I hope it will help us to limit our passions and increase our awareness; our awareness not only of our truth, but that of others as well.

I met Hiwot in Toronto more than a decade ago. It was clear she was living with the agony of her past. She was much more reserved and quiet than what I remembered. Compared to the Hiwot I knew during our college years, the changes were immense. After reading Tower in the Sky I understood her agony and the suffering of living with the treasure of so much history inside her. I am hopeful that sharing her pain will lessen her burden and give her back the happiness that she deserves. Hiwot should be thanked for her kindness and her hard work. She has paid so much more than her share.

With this book, it is clear a star is born. An important Ethiopian female writer has surfaced. I hope Hiwot will concentrate on her writing and continue to share the Ethiopian experience with the global community. It is through writers like Hiwot, writers who are well versed in the English language, that the rest of the world will learn the human struggles of the Africans.

Postscript – This is a discussion about a generation that attempted at revolutionary social change and paid the ultimate sacrifice for its ideals. The criticisms on EPRP’s leadership should not be seen as a conduit for the perpetrators of the Red Terror and their cohorts to feel justified for their brutality and inhumanity. In a way this is an internal discussion held in a public forum. A revolutionary democratic party like the EPRP, along with its former members will always discuss its past, criticize itself, and pass its lessons learned to the next generation. It does this, because its history and the lessons drawn from it are still relevant today and for the future. Hiwot’s book and its accompanying reviews and discussions should be seen in this light.



42 Responses to “Tower in the Sky: A book about the ideal of a generation and the disappointment of multitudes”

  1. Woldu Tessema April 25, 2013

    Iyasu alemayehu, Kiflu Tadsse and Girmachew Lemma could be responsible for the killings

    Reply
  2. Sintayehu April 25, 2013

    Thumbs Up Yared Tibebu

    Reply
    • It is a wonderful critical comment from an insider. Thank you Yated. But, are you sure that Getachew was a poliburrau member? I thought that he was a central committee member only.

      Reply
  3. Walelign April 25, 2013

    We have to brought the killers of Getachew Maru to Justice. Some remnants of these killers are still alive here in the diaspora

    Reply
    • Edmedeg August 18, 2013

      Ayi Walelgn,Man feraj man tefaraj endemihon Egzer yiwok!Hulum beyederejaw ke tiyake ayamelyim.
      ” YEGEDELEW BALISH YEMOTEW WONDIMISH…HAZENISH KEIT ATTA KEBETISH ALWETA” endilu naw yegna neger. Endene endene like South Africa, let us have time/chance to take out all our sins/complaints and reconcile not to kill/die anymore!. God bless Ethiopian PEOPLE!!

      Reply
  4. Solomon April 25, 2013

    The three bloody and disgusting cancers of Ethiopia that never should have existed are MENGSTU H, EPRP and ERITREA.

    Reply
    • You forgot Weyane which is the worst of all.

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    • Solomon, EBAKEH ENKERDADUN KESENDE LEYEW DON’T EVER COMPARE OR PUT SIDE BY SIDE EPRP WITH REST OF SAVAGE & FASCIST ORGANIZATIONS MINGSTU & ESAYAS OK PLEASE READ BOOKS ASK, LEARN EDUCATED YOURSELF

      Reply
  5. Dear Yared,
    Don’t you say the author lost touch of the reality within which the story took place by writing in English and hence could not present her case to detractors and to the new generation? It is one of those ironies of history that EPRP’s disintegration came about because the leadership preferred secrecy and dictatorship over transparency and democratic practices; and now another “literary secrecy” takes place depriving the majority of their right to know the truth.

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    • damtew May 8, 2013

      Just translate it

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      • from someone who personally know the author. she is capable of writing in both English and Amharic.

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    • I second that, just translate it. It’s amazing that we always find something to complain about.

      Reply
    • Alem, partiality I agree with you this book should write in Amharic language so that many people should know about it & get better understanding. However, I believe that when the writer chose to write in English language clearly is not to to make it secret even If you think what she wrote is secrete it is already out their it is no more secret! I believe the intention of author decided to write in English, must be associated to let the rest the world know the politics of Africa, particularly Ethiopia during that time. I would like advise the author that allowed or give an opportunity for individuals who like or has interest to translate the book because obviously not all people know or understand English language.

      Reply
    • Dear Alem,
      Don’t you think there are already plenty of literary texts that are written in Amharic? I think the writer’s choice to use English will undoubtedly help us to be placed on the map of world literature. Besides, the rest of the world has also a right to know about what happened in the then Ethiopia?

      Reply
  6. Hiwot has done justice to Ya Tewuled. I read the book. I cried. The book is not only Hiwot’s hiwot, it is also my hiwot and the hiwot of millions. Hiwot is an amazing women. I suggest to Hiwot, To allow the translation of the book in local languages. Hiwot you are truly the role model for dedication, eternal love and sacrifices.

    Reply
  7. Tilahun April 26, 2013

    Where can I buy the book ? I have a lost uncle from that generation. Perhaps I may find a bit of news on this book about him.

    Reply
    • Yared,
      I can’t agree less with you in how you described the book. I have read many books related to EPRP, none can come closer to Tower In The Sky. I hope Hiwot’s courage will pave a way for other prominent figures of the party to tell their side of story. After almost 30 something years, authors should seize using pseudo names. It tells me nothing less than they are yet in hiding partially. I have heard so many justifications as to why, but, how long is this argument valid for?

      Reply
      • You are simply naive to expect real names. It was not a drama that was acted. Innocent people were tortured and killed for nothing. We hear that a few are still paying prices for what they have done.

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  8. Germame Neway April 26, 2013

    I have not read the book. But Yared Tibebu’s review is a disservice to paint the book to fit his treasonous and treacherous political life against that selfless and patriotic generation by scapegoating and employing salami-tactic quoting selectively. As there are, even today, holocaust deniers in the face of tons of evidence, there will be EPRP demonizers and war criminals the name EPRP itself is a spectre which haunts them as long as they live which Yared Tibebu of the world attempt to justify or rationalize by method of deconstruction of history as a validation of their treachery.If the book contribute to the history of that gallant generation it is a credit to Ethiopia and Ethiopiawinet which Yared Tibebu abandoned long time ago when he joined tplf/eplf duo strategic political interest by promoting divisive politics wherever and whenever opportunity arises. As it is indicated the author never abandoned the spirit and vision of that revolutionary generation. God bless her!!! To use her as a stick to denounce the EPRP AND ITS VALIANT LEADERS WILL NEVER SUCCEDED EXCEPT TO ONCE MORE INVITE THE IRE OF THE Ethiopian PEOPLE. THE DAY OF RECKONIONG IS NEAR!!!

    Reply
  9. Thank you Hiwot, a jewel, from that dynamic generation, a generation that did not fare well, to say the least. It is a blessing you survived to tell the story. A story that is as fresh and as bitter today as it was 30 some years ago. A story that needs to be told again and again, a story that will be a great lesson, for the present and future generations, as to NOT to repeat the mistakes of that dynamic generation and to emphatically say NEVER EVER AGAIN… and for us, a story that might someday give us closure, that might help us heal our aching heart. But in a way I believe that our wounded heart should never heal, for I feel we would be abandoning those dynamic friends and comrades, such as Getachew Maru, Azeb and multitude others. Hiwot I have known you in person during those tumultuous years and hopefully someday I will find you and give you a big hug and tell you how thankful I am, from the bottom of my heart.

    Reply
    • Edmedeg Assayen August 18, 2013

      Dear Tagash, I do share your comments on those youth days! It is always live deep in our hearts the song of freedom of all people regardless of color, race, ethnic roots,…. what a blessed generation despite all the intrigues,sabotages,evil spirited deeds!!!!! God blessand RIP all our Comrades who gave their lives for noble ideals!!

      Reply
  10. worede melaku April 26, 2013

    dear yared you are great as usual.this a book that can give us a clear picture for those including my self as members and sympathizers who were neglected to know why eprp and epra failed.pls post the address of the author or publishers of the book to contact and buy.thank you.

    Reply
  11. Alem
    The book is in the process of translatiom to Amharic, soon it will be in the market. I don’t think there is any literacy secrecy” as you explained it above. Let’s encourage people like Hiwot to mark the foot steps of history.

    Reply
  12. The greatness and kindness of the Amhara people will forever prevail, jealeous weyane leaders will burn alive and in hell trying to digest that ! hahahahahahahaha………….

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  13. Dear Yared Tibebu, Tank you for your review. I haven’t read the Hiwot’s book yet but as a kercele prisoner with Hiwot and others One thing that makes us unique is we had a time to pause and look at things in different perspective.to look at history as it is with it’s own faults and errors. one way or another an irreversible damage was done compromise and dialog, tolerance was unthinkable. yes so money brilliant young mined perished and demoralized by durge but it change the countries politics from durg to EPDRf. thank you Hiwot I will expect more from you about Kercele’s women prison(sethoch bête) keep it up ayenuka!

    Reply
  14. Asres May 1, 2013

    Kudos to you my sister! You have unearthed precious untouchables from the dead. Stories of valour, passion, dedication & heartaches of a generation. All of this might have been thrown into the dust bins of history. Hiwot, You touched nerves suppressed deep in memory lanes & resonated with multitudes! I happened to be one directed by “Belay Akal” to prepare ground for ” yeterazeme getter titk tigel” before the
    “Belay Akal” turned corners and embarked on a dangerous path to the abyss. When the Derg unleashed sheer terror on the whole country and the party, I felt exactly the same as Getacew Maru did, not connected in any way whatsoever to Getachew. Had the “belay akal” opened discussion on the diverging polo local lines,, we would have been spared the calamity befallen us. I still feel guilty to this day telling myself at the time, that the “Belay Akal” deserved the “Great Debacle” Beketema., because it was the beginning of the end. Armageddo!
    Thank you so much, Hiwot. I wish and hope you feel a little bit more free today.
    Asres

    Reply
    • Askale May 5, 2013

      I have read the ‘Tower’ and it is my view that only Hiwot could have written that book. ‘Tower’ is a powerful book not because it is a descriptive narrative of suffering. Hiwot has the language to bring it into life. Why she is able to do so, one has to see the books she reads. She says that she has the capacity to suffer – a classic introvert tragic creative, a trait she shares with her boyfriend. I don’t know Hiwot, the last time I saw Getachew was 1971. But, ‘Tower’ is not a book about Hiwot or Getachew; it is about the meaning of a historical experience. Hiwot, I can’t wait until your 2nd book. Thank you.

      Reply
    • Edmedeg August 18, 2013

      I do share your idea. Thre is always room for venting our deep burried tormenting regrets!

      Reply
  15. Dawit, what happened to the comment I posted a week ago. Have you omitted it because of my personal opinion about the vey heinous figure aka Yared Tibebu. Is that what a “moderation” is? Wasn’t you complaining out loud abou freedom of expression not long ago? Was all that crying foul? What you are doing is very nauseating and disgusting. It shouldn’t be up to you weather I am critical or not regarding this pseudo politician. I for one was appalled to hear him bluffing in favor of Birket (mebrahatu) not long ago when the tyrant Zenawi passed away. By just looking how you are conducting your business one can determine that you are the other side of the coin. Birds of the same feather flock together as the saying goes. The good thing is woyane is in its last breath and on death bed. Once peace and democratization is restored you and your like traitors will beg forgiveness from the whole hearted people of Ethiopia. What a shame Dawit you have tarnished the respect you had from all of us.

    Reply
  16. JahLove July 12, 2013

    Can anybody tell where can I buy the soft or hard copy of the book in overseas?

    Reply
  17. Berhane July 15, 2013

    Tower in the sky and Yared’s sympathy to it are historical revisionism at its best. I am perplexed even to this day that there are people who blatantly want to paint this terrorist organization with gold. EPRP was nothing but a thuggish-Trojan horse for the EPLF. EPRP is best known for unleashing urban terrorism out of the blue sky in the early days of the revolution, a strategy that was designed by EPLF to complete its journey towards capturing Asmara. After all EPRP played dearly on the Ethiopian youth, preached mao-socilaism as a cover ideology and used the youth to disperse its propaganda leaflets and carry out mercenary activities. The urban youth that were shepherded into the arms of EPRP were held with a do not ask do not tell mafia chain of order. Eprp used the Ethiopian use as a cover to give the party an image of popularity while in actual fact it was led by a few power monger mafiosi.The damage was almost complete and the gallant Eprp foot soldiers perished. It is really painful to hear of Eprp in these days, which was nothing but the reincarnation of evil.

    Reply
    • The problem with that era, was that the DERG was not distinguishing between members of EPRP , Royal loyalists, Capitalists etc., I descent from a family loyal to the King , yet, I had to flee for fear of my life.

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    • Berhane, I don’t want to say or I am not trying to refute about your accusation on EPRP because you just preaching hate but not reasons based on facts, it will be wasting time,if I try to refute your opinions word by word because your arrogancey covered your conscious beyond the limit you are blind to see the truth or to tell the facts. Please educate yourself before you even come forward and trying to involved in high level discussion forms!

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  18. I am one of the victims of the DERG , I had to flee Addis ababa and save my life. betam yemiasazen zemen nebere.

    Reply
  19. i heard about the book in “sheger cafe” while Meaza talks to DR Dagnachew about the book …….what i saw beyond their discusson is a big generation gap and we need to follow their foor steps

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  20. As far as i & my generation has learned from what was going on when we were under 10 years old kids. The Generation that was in the teens at the end of 50′s & in 60′s was the selfless generation Ethiopia/Eritrea ever had. Specially ELF,EPLF ,TPLF,EPRP & Meison will be the leading may be the only organizations of that Generation.the huge reason for their failure will always remain at the hand of their ” power greed” leaders. As of dergu it a gang of angry people who wanted to avenge every one who they think was better than them.

    Reply
  21. HIWOT, please reprint the second edition, b/s most of us lost the book through out Addis.

    Reply
  22. BeZa bilo lemin copy ayderegm yetatemew lebeteseb bicha new mimeslew,beza lay english lemanarifew amharic version binorew arif new!!!

    Reply
  23. Awramba, Please don’t stop people opinions from being posted on your web site board just because you don’t like it. I believe & you believe too in free press in free speech & people rights for their free opinions. I noticed that you have discarded some of our opinion’s from being posted! It is not fair you cry every day about free press! however, we haven’t see your fairness by giving equal rights for every one regardless oft their unique opinion’s from others we should be judge by the people not By Awramba! In short my reply to Grmame Neway hijack by you why? I don’t know is that because I labeled him or giving him name that he deserved! We,the generation of that time we paid the ultimate sacrifice to bring better Ethiopia as we know our self better than any one we wouldn’t allowed no one who specially those who don’t have any knowledge what so ever about the history of the time coming forward to defame us!!

    Reply
  24. dejene March 9, 2014

    Thank you Yared
    It is so sad that we lost so many brilliant
    young Ethiopians, and here we are. Now let us just concentrate on the common enemy.

    Reply

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