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"I shed those names my parents had given me.",
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This review is from: All Our Names (Kindle Edition)
In the middle of this exquisite book is a perfect metaphor. It is the story of a town that existed as long as one person dreamed of it night. "In the beginning, everyone kept some part of the city alive in their dreams." But one day people grew tired of the burden and wished to dream of other lands or hopes for the future. A young man announces he will take the burden and dream of the city each night. However as the citizens relinquish their pictures of the city, the young man changes the scene little by little. Finally people begin to disappear and the dreamers become aware of what they had lost, but the city of memory was lost.
That story is as precise a summary of this book as any other, mostly the realities are different. Mengestu paints that murky world bordering on distrust in which one's true name is unlikely to be known. The story of Isaac and his friend takes place in the nightmare of Amin's Uganda and concerns the young men who try to rebel. In alternating chapters, we meet a young American woman, Helen, who has befriended Isaac some unknown time after the strife. She is a social worker, now numbed by the world's misery. The African man and the white woman make a threatening pair to many in their claustrophobic town. To add to her misery, Helen is sure she knows little of truth about her lover.
The imagery of the novel is precise and unhurried. Violence is almost under reported in a tone that accepts that such is the way of that world. The relationships of the young rebels and later the lovers are marked by tests of trust based on the merest of evidence. The unease and the ill defined threat are created almost as afterthoughts as the characters struggle to define themselves and the people they love.
Like Helen, I often feel that African struggles are horrors not understood by those of us who take belonging for granted. THis book invites the reader into that queasy world in which the true name is granted only after trial.