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The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears Paperback – Bargain Price, February 5, 2008
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Top Customer Reviews
Except for two friends, Ken and Joe, also African immigrants, he leads a lonely and listless life. By contrast, Ken an engineer from Kenya, strives steadily to adapt himself to the American pursuit of material success; Joe, a waiter in a high-class restaurant, is a closet epic poet, obsessed with the political debacle of his own country, Congo. The friendship of these three single men is poignant and often quietly amusing, and they pass the time with ironic reminders of how their lives in America have been like an escape from Dante's hell (the title is a reference to the closing lines of "The Inferno").
Enter a well-off white woman, an academic with a school-age daughter. When she buys and renovates a house in the neighborhood, she sparks a feint romantic interest in Sepha, as well as the resentment of the welfare-check neighbors being evicted as rents suddenly begin to soar. The resulting events make for a wistful account of people traumatized by brutal political upheavals, and washing up in the land of freedom and opportunity, where lives settle into a kind of permanent holding pattern. Beautifully written, with a quiet charm that finds rueful laughter in sadness and loss. Readers may also appreciate Hisham Matar's "In the Country of Men."
Mengestu's writing allowed me to visualize nearly every scene and get to know several of the characters in the novel as if I'd been their friend for years. I could picture Judith's house and Sepha's store. My heart went out to Sepha's Uncle Berhane, who spent years writing letters about his country to congressmen and presidents, and saving copies of his correspondence.
His writing is not forced nor flowery nor full of words an average reader needs to look up in a dictionary. His writing is conversational and accessible, yet he tells a powerful story with those words.
This is a wonderful debut novel, expertly crafted and beautifully written. It is the story of Stepha Stephanos, an immigrant from Ethiopia now a small-time shopkeeper in Washington, D.C., as he comes to terms with his past and the death of his father in Africa, his life as an immigrant and what he has become, living and working in the run down Logan Circle neighborhood, and the love that might have been but never will be. Together with his two African friends, one from Kenya and one from the Congo, we look through the eyes of Africans in America and how they try to make sense of their chaotic homeland. I am not African, but I work in Washington and found many observations about this city that are dead on. Mengestu has written a book with a little something for everyone, about living the small life in a great city (though it's set in Washington, there is not one politician or lawyer in the book), about young people trying to make lives of their own and make sense of family history, about finding love in the most unexpected place and knowing that it will never work out. Oh yes, and about being an immigrant.
Sepha is an Ethiopian immigrant who is given the gift of escaping a bloody regime that murdered his father in Addis Ababa. He now resides in a small apartment in a run down part of Washington DC. His dream of becoming a successful shop keeper (and by default, part of a community) is thwarted by his own indifference and homesickness. He dwells on the past and lives a quiet life, until he meets his new neighbor Judith, and her daughter, Naomi.
Sepha has friends and acquaintances who care for him. But his true connection comes with the intellectual and mysterious Judith and her precocious 11 year old daughter, Naomi. He is temporarily brought to life by these women. His connections to his African past, his friends Kenneth and Joseph seem to depress him and unwittingly taunt him.
This novel is not a happy one, in my opinion,. It is filled with disappointment and grief. Much has been lost by so many in this book, especially the main character of course. Perhaps the connection to Dante is that he and his neighbors on Logan Circle (as in circle of hell, of course) are trapped in their own kind of hell, like Dante's, and the book seems to end appropriately. this isn't a long novel, and the writing is superb, but it was a painful, sad read.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I had never heard of this book until browsing through eBook loans on my library's website, and I decided to give it a chance. Read morePublished 23 days ago
Really enjoyed this book, it captivated me quickly and keep me hooked until the end. The format was engaging. I would recommend this to a friend!Published 1 month ago by Daniel Walzenbach
From the beginning, I plodded dutifully through this book since it was selected by my book club. It wasn't terrible, just not very interesting. Read morePublished 6 months ago by Kilian85710
An insightful and poignant story about an Ethiopian immigrant. This book made me feel so compassionate to the plight of the immigrant who come America expecting " The Promised... Read morePublished 7 months ago by cindi wilson
I read this book as part of a multi-ethnic literature class. It provides an unique perspective on immigration and racism.Published 9 months ago by elk
If you are living in DC, a very worthwhile book to read. It is about race, "the immigrant story", and a transition city. Read morePublished 10 months ago by s e
Well written story about African immigrants set in Washington DC from three different countries. Mix in gentrification and relationships between the races. Read morePublished 10 months ago by Edna M Rankine