Shallow Graves

A Memoir of the Ethiopia–Eritrea War

March 2020 9781787383289 296pp
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This is a personal account of the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia, fought between May 1998 and June 2000, as well as of the periods immediately preceding and following the conflict. Shallow Graves traces shifting local perceptions of time, the nation and the region, beginning in the mid-1990s and concluding with the peace agreement signed between the two governments in 2018.

Richard Reid is a historian who was based in Eritrea during the war, and who continued to visit both that country and Ethiopia for several years afterwards. This personal perspective offers a more vivid, intimate portrait of the experience of the war than can normally be offered by putatively ‘objective’ academic accounts. As well as providing first-hand reportage and analysis, Reid problematises the role of the historian—and specifically the foreign historian—as the supposedly impartial observer of events. His eloquent narrative, constructed around conversations and interactions with a range of local witnesses, friends and colleagues, explores the impact of prolonged war and its aftermathboth on private and public memory, and on the nature of history itself.


‘This deeply moving book gets beneath the skin of Eritrea, like nothing that has been written about that haunting—and haunted—country. It is a book to be treasured.’ — Christopher Clapham, Centre of African Studies, University of Cambridge

Shallow Graves offers the reader unparalleled access to actors who have witnessed and shaped Eritrea’s history. For those seeking context for recent developments in the region, it also provides an essential background to the 2018 Eritrean-Ethiopian peace agreement, and the current joint Ethiopian-Eritrean offensive in Tigray. This engaging, persuasive, and persistently insightful book forces us to reconsider the human impact of this brutal war afresh and suggests new ways of communicating and interrogating history.’ — African Studies Review

‘This is a vivid, first-hand account of one of Africa’s least reported but bloodiest wars. It is beautifully written and Richard Reid’s reconstruction of these tragic events has the ring of authenticity.’ — Martin Plaut, Senior Researcher, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, and author of Understanding Eritrea and Understanding South Africa

‘I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Richard Reid’s book since I read it. Shallow Graves is an intensely personal, honest and gripping history of a war that few outside the region understood or even knew about.’ — Mary Harper, BBC Africa Editor

‘Reid has unparalleled insiders’ access to local actors’ perspectives. He captures the mud, blood and pain of futile conflict. Accessible, and lucidly written, this account fills an important gap in our understanding of a bloody and senseless war.’ — Gaim Kibreab, Research Professor, London South Bank University




Richard Reid is Professor of African History at the University of Oxford, currently focusing on histories of war on the continent in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He is the author of A History of Modern Uganda.

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