How To Read The Air
is not a great novel, but it is a good one. The summary provided on the back cover and above is as misleading as it is incomplete. While the story features two road trips, identical in itinerary and divergent in purpose, they merely serve as an awkward framework on which to hang Mengestu's theme. Similar to the journeys, the characters go backward as much as they go forward in their lives and no destination is ever reached.
Jonas, the American born son of Ethiopian immigrants, is as lost in America as his parents were. He is seeking his identity and a center for his life. In the process of getting out of Ethiopia and to America, Jonas's father lost so much of his personality that his only means of interacting with wife and son was through violence. Jonas learned to "read the air" for signs of disturbance until life became an exercise in not...
Beyond the Book
About the Author
Dinaw Mengestu was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 1978. In 1980 he immigrated to the United States with his mother and sister, joining his father, who had fled the communist revolution in Ethiopia two years before. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and of Columbia University's MFA program in fiction. He has also reported stories for Harper's
magazine, profiling a young woman who was kidnapped and forced to become a soldier in the brutal war in Uganda, and for Rolling Stone
on the tragedy in Darfur.
His first novel, The Beautiful Things That Heaven...