The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears

Dinaw Mengestu, Author
Dinaw Mengestu, Author . Riverhead $22.95 (240p) ISBN 978-1-59448-940-2
Reviewed on: 11/20/2006
Release date: 03/01/2007
Open Ebook - 240 pages - 978-1-101-21756-6
Paperback - 228 pages - 978-1-59448-285-4
Paperback - 978-1-59448-300-4
Open Ebook - 240 pages - 978-1-4295-2977-8
Peanut Press/Palm Reader - 240 pages - 978-1-4295-2978-5
Downloadable Audio - 978-1-4561-0511-2
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Barely suppressed despair and black wit infuse this beautifully observed debut from Ethiopian émigré Mengestu. Set over eight months in a gentrifying Washington, D.C., neighborhood in the 1970s, it captures an uptick in Ethiopian grocery store owner Sepha Stephanos's long-deferred hopes, as Judith, a white academic, fixes up the four-story house next to his apartment building, treats him to dinner and lets him steal a kiss. Just as unexpected is Sepha's friendship with Judith's biracial 11-year-old daughter, Naomi (one of the book's most vivid characters), over a copy of The Brothers Karamazov . Mengestu adds chiaroscuro with the story of Stephanos's 17-year exile from his family and country following his father's murder by revolutionary soldiers. After long days in the dusty, barely profitable shop, Sepha's two friends, Joseph from Congo and Kenneth from Kenya, joke with Sepha about African dictators and gently mock his romantic aspirations, while the neighborhood's loaded racial politics hang over Sepha and Judith's burgeoning relationship like a sword of Damocles. The novel's dirge-like tone may put off readers looking for the next Kite Runner , but Mengestu's assured prose and haunting set pieces (especially a series of letters from Stephanos's uncle to Jimmy Carter, pleading that he respect "the deep friendship between our two countries") are heart-rending and indelible. (Feb.)

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