Monthly Archives: June 2008

The Beautiful things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu, Riverhead Books (Penguin Grp), 2007

After discovering the title was taken from a line in Dante’s Inferno I googled it and found the passage:

My guide and i went into that hidden tunnel; and following its path, we took no care to rest, but climbed: he first, then I—So far, through a round aperture I saw appear some of the beautiful things that heaven bears; where we came forth, and once more saw the stars.

Sepha Stephanos, the main character is an immigrant from Ethiopia who owns a convenient store (thats most inconvenient) a few blocks from his apartment in a neighborhood of people living below the poverty line in Washington, D.C.  He has been in the states 19 years but has held “tunnel vision” of his life. 

The story is about his emotional travels toward a resolution of his own identity that has been clouded by his past.  Stephanos did not willingly come to the states for a “better life”.  He was the oldest son of two sons of an upper middle class family…during a coup his father was killed and Stephanos was forced to flee. 

The novel introduces us to 2 other African immigrants who are the closest to friends as Stephanos has who often are his drinking buddies and companions with each varied ideas for what it means to be in the U.S.  The daily life of Stephanos is interrupted by a new neighbor and her young school age daughter, Judith and Naomi, who have gentrified the delipadated Victorian house next to his apartment.

Through their awkard and developing friendship Stephanos past, present, and future collide and enter the forefront of his conscious.

It was a slow relaxing read.  Midway through the book I felt the only outcome for Stephanos would be tragic…I anticipated that he would commit suicide.  He didn’t.  The resolve of the book seemed as temporary and superficial as his thoughts where most of the story takes place.  The most interesting passages however are in the dialogues. 

I purchased this book and will be keeping it on my shelf instead of bookcrossing it which has seen even less activity than this blog.

Michele sent be a book by Anne Lamont which I’m going to start today.


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Filed under Fiction, Immigrant Experience