Original Research

Unhomeliness, unending phobias and liminality in Senait Mehari’s Heart of Fire

Nick M. Tembo
Literator | Vol 38, No 1 | a1292 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v38i1.1292 | © 2017 Nick M. Tembo | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 29 February 2016 | Published: 28 April 2017

About the author(s)

Nick M. Tembo, Department of English Studies, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa


In Senait Mehari’s Heart of Fire, the legacy of childhood maltreatment is reproduced in the relationship between the father, Ghebrehiwet, and the daughter, Senait. A former victim of atrocity, Ghebrehiwet is a broken man with an identity that makes him transfer his traumatised childhood and his dissatisfaction with Eritrea’s political system to his family members. Because of these psychosocial issues, he gives his three daughters away to the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) to train and fight as child soldiers. Drawing on trauma studies, postcolonial theories as well as current research on child soldier narratives, this article examines Mehari’s depiction of her experiences with her father and, later, with fellow soldiers during the Second Eritrean Civil War. Specifically, it examines the concepts of unhomeliness and liminality, with reference to Mehari’s depiction of her anxiety in the tension-filled space of her parental home and the contingent ‘homes’ of the various ELF camps where she stayed as a child soldier. To that end, the article considers Mehari’s unending phobias as a recurring motif in Heart of Fire.


Heart of Fire; abused childhood; Eritrean Liberation Front; child soldier narratives; Second Eritrean Civil War; unhomely; liminality; phobia


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