Leaving Addis, Losing DC: Dinaw Mengestu’s “Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears”

I can't remember the last time I read a novel where I was the villain.The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears is a novel about the thwarted romance between a failing shopkeeper from Ethiopia and a white divorcee whose mixed-race daughter comes into the convenience store after elementary school to read The Brothers Karamazov. Two people who have fled their past lives come into D.C. right at the moment that the money started to pour in; before they can get their bearings, the tidal wave of … [Read more...]

From “The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears”

She was sitting on the top of her steps, bundled up in a coat, smoking a cigarette whose smell cut straight through the cold emptiness of the air."I thought you had quit smoking a long time ago," I said."I did. But sometimes you get lonely and there's no better company in the world." … [Read more...]

From “The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears”

When the train rushes above ground, we've already crossed into the outskirts of the city. The buildings, old brick factories and warehouses, are all marked with the familiar bright red and yellow bubble letters of Disco Dan. The name is everywhere, tagged onto the side of the tracks, buildings, and rusted water towers. A running billboard competing with the ads for Schlitz malt liquor and used-car lots. Disco Dan--offering nothing but himself and his vanity--has them all beat. For as long as … [Read more...]

From Dinaw Mengestu, “The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears”

Lying on the grass on the edge of Dupont Circle, away from the shade cast by the office buildings and trees, I listen closely to the sirens. They don't fit in with the picturesque scene of office workers lunching on the grass, but there they are, faint, undoubtedly audible, and growing louder with each passing second. The couple that I followed to the circle from my store stand up and exit. As the sirens draw closer, the people lying on the grass look up from their books. Those who are strolling … [Read more...]

“No, Where Are You Really From?”: Dinaw Mengestu’s Novel of Ethiopians in America

Dinaw Mengestu's 2010 How to Read the Air tells two parallel stories: In alternating chapters, Jonas Woldemariam retells the story of his Ethiopian immigrant parents' ill-fated road trip through the Midwest, and his own equally ill-starred career as a teacher and husband. But the book is more tangled than most parallel-lines-meet narratives. Jonas is not only retelling the road trip but retracing it; the chapters about his teaching include the many stories he tells his students about his … [Read more...]

From “How to Read the Air”

I could never have asked him what exactly Abrahim had done for him, or what their relationship had been like, but I had never asked him anything to begin with, not about his past, his current intentions, or his plans for the future. By the time I was old enough to be genuinely curious about what type of man my father had been before I knew him, I had made up my mind already. He had been a bastard from birth and would remain one until he died. Anything beyond that was irrelevant. Often, however, … [Read more...]

From “How to Read the Air”

There were vast swathes of my life that I knew if I looked at closely I would come to regret, and I was certain that soon enough I was going to find the time to do that. … [Read more...]


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