Excerpt from The Parking Lot Attendant by Nafkote Tamirat, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Parking Lot Attendant

A Novel

by Nafkote Tamirat

The Parking Lot Attendant by Nafkote Tamirat X
The Parking Lot Attendant by Nafkote Tamirat
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2018, 240 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2019, 240 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
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Print Excerpt


"Muslims are ruthless."

"Pretty, though."

"Doesn't matter now."

"Why not?"

Four heads swiveled toward me to identify the source of the question before pivoting back to a fifth man, who was still watching.

"Because he's dead," this last said.

He was wearing a stained sweat suit, the same shade as the booth against which he leaned, his face this side of perfect. The others lit one cigarette off the last, furtively flashing looks at the speaker before beaming their gazes back down. I felt embarrassed by my interruption, at having forced someone I didn't even know to pin down and call out mortality. I didn't feel sad. I don't remember feeling sadness at that point. I watched things happen to me, adjusted myself, and resisted reflection until my mind relented and let me live blindly once more. Sadness would come later, in never-ending and expanding waves, as if my psyche was punishing me for all the years I'd dodged.

"What's your name?"

I told him.

"That's an important name."

"So they tell me."

I hadn't yet discovered the phenomenon by which Ethiopians recognize fellow Ethiopians by face and manner alone; I might have actually believed my parents and myself to be the only Ethiopians in the world. The concept of "Ethiopia" seemed too fantastical to entertain as anything but a lovely origin story. I perhaps even thought this man was a mind reader, a prophet. I wasn't entirely wrong.

"What happened to him?"

"Kassahun? Wrong place, wrong time is what they're saying."

"Who?"

He slid the Metro out from underneath his armpit. Five lines about Kassahun Beyene, age twenty-three, newly arrived from Gondar, non-drinker. Immediately after was a more substantial piece about an Allston divorcée who swore there was an ancient Native American settlement below her hedges.

"How are his drinking habits relevant?"

"I suppose everything counts when it comes to murder."

"I didn't know about him."

He tossed the paper to one of his friends, who caught it and seemed pleased that he had.

"Most people don't. Bigger papers didn't seem overly concerned."

"That's kind of sad."

He laughed. "Isn't it? You get used to it, though."

"What?"

"Objective reporting." He looked over my shoulder. "Are you by yourself?"

"Yes, but I'm going to meet my father soon."

"Who's that?"

I gave his name. He eyed the others, who promptly supplied the mutely requested information.

"Thin."

"Mechanic. Or something."

"Addis Ababa, his mother knew Mengistu."

"Been here a while, doesn't go out."

"Had a green-card wife, no sign of her now."

The man absorbed these facts without taking his eyes off me, while I stood there, stunned at how much they knew. This was my first encounter with the unofficial intelligence network that includes all Ethiopians in any given locale. The minute someone leaves the borders of his or her adopted state, it's like they've vanished as far as the remaining inhabitants are concerned. This is particularly apt if they move to Washington, D.C., or L.A., where our people tend to get devoured by the sheer amount of homeland.

"Where do you go to school?"

I told him. He looked impressed.

"What are your favorite subjects?"

"English and history. I hate math."

"You still do well in it?"

"Yes."

"Good."

One of the men, dark and steeped in stale smoke, asked if I knew what an Achilles' heel was. When I defined it, the men nodded appreciatively.

"A real scholar."

This came from the apparent leader, and though I didn't understand why, it meant so much to me that he might believe it.

"What is a square root?"

"Can decimals have square roots?"

Excerpted from The Parking Lot Attendant by Nafkote Tamirat. Copyright © 2018 by Nafkote Tamirat. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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