Seventeen years ago, Sepha Stephanos fled the Ethiopian Revolution after witnessing soldiers beat his father to the point of certain death, selling off his parents' jewelry to pay for passage to the United States. Now he finds himself running a grocery store in a poor African-American neighborhood in Washington, D.C. His only companions are two fellow African immigrants who share his feelings of frustration with and bitter nostalgia for their home continent. He realizes that his life has turned out completely different and far more isolated from the one he had imagined for himself years ago.
Soon Sepha's neighborhood begins to change. Hope comes in the form of new neighbors-Judith and Naomi, a white woman and her biracial daughter-who become his friends and remind him of what having a family is like for the first time in years. But when the neighborhood's newfound calm is disturbed by a series of racial incidents, Sepha may lose everything all over again.
Told in a haunting and powerful first-person narration that casts the streets of Washington, D.C., and Addis Ababa through Sepha's eyes, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears is a deeply affecting and unforgettable debut novel about what it means to lose a family and a country-and what it takes to create a new home.
Published as The Beautiful Thing That Heaven Bears in the USA, Canada and Australia; and as Children of the Revolution in the UK. Winner of the Guardian (UK) 2007 book award.
The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears
Josephs already drunk when he comes into the store. He strolls through the
open door with his arms open. You get the sense when watching him that even the
grandest gestures he may make arent grand enough for him. Hes constantly
trying to outdo himself, to reach new levels of Josephness that will ensure that
anyone who has ever met him will carry some lingering trace of Joseph Kahangi
long after he has left. Hes now a waiter at an expensive downtown restaurant,
and after he cleans each table he downs whatever alcohol is still left in the
glasses before bringing them back to the kitchen. I can tell by his slight
swagger that the early dinnertime crowd was better than usual today.
Joseph is short and stout like a tree stump. He has a large round face that looks like a moon pie. Kenneth used to tell him he looked Ghanaian.
You have a typical Ghanaian face, Joe. Round eyes. Round face. Round...
Mengestu's African characters are nuanced and his theme of living between two worlds is both unique to his protagonists and universal - only the person who has lived their entire life in a small community and never desired for something different does not know that feeling to some small degree. Added to which, there has been relatively little written about immigration by contemporary African writers. We are awash (and happily so) in novels by Asian writers, in particular from India, but have heard little from the vast and diverse African continent.
(Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).
Full Review (1119 words).
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