Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu

Inside and outside his urban Washington, D.C. grocery store, an Ethiopian refugee watches the neighborhood shift and change around him. Sepha is haunted by his past and frozen in place, unable to move or act in his ill-fitting, lonely American life.

In this literary novel by an Ethiopian-born American author, the themes of loss, friendship, and the American dream make for a rather sad, yearning tale. Nonetheless, it's beautifully done - filled with thoughtful characters and gorgeous prose.

Sepha's life, the store, and, in fact the whole city decay before his wise, analytical gaze, but he takes no actions to forestall their decline. He awkwardly makes friends with a young new neighbor and there's romantic tension with her mother, but again these interactions require actions - enthusiasm, even - that Sepha can't muster.

This would be an awesome book for discussion, and the more diverse the group, the richer: There's a lot to discuss in the way Sepha wanders his neighborhood and ponders its residents, and his African immigrant friends and their war-themed mind games could be quite a conversation in itself.

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