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Original Essays | September 15, 2014

Lois Leveen: IMG Forsooth Me Not: Shakespeare, Juliet, Her Nurse, and a Novel



There's this writer, William Shakespeare. Perhaps you've heard of him. He wrote this play, Romeo and Juliet. Maybe you've heard of it as well. It's... Continue »
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The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears: A Novel

by

The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears: A Novel Cover

 

Review-A-Day

"The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears is wonderfully written and moving. It gives personality and depth to the oft-mocked immigrant deli owner (Apu, anyone?) and draws a portrait of someone all readers can relate to. The story is carried by the wry humor of the observations that Stephanos and his friends make about life in America, and it's in those moments that Mengetsu does his best and most surprising work." Anya C. Yurchyshyn, Esquire (read the entire Esquire review)

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

Seventeen years ago, Sepha Stephanos fled the Ethiopian Revolution after witnessing soldiers beat his father to the point of certain death, selling off his parents' jewelry to pay for passage to the United States. Now he finds himself running a grocery store in a poor African-American neighborhood in Washington, D.C. His only companions are two fellow African immigrants who share his feelings of frustration with and bitter nostalgia for their home continent. He realizes that his life has turned out completely different and far more isolated from the one he had imagined for himself years ago.

Soon Sepha's neighborhood begins to change. Hope comes in the form of new neighbors— Judith and Naomi, a white woman and her biracial daughter — who become his friends and remind him of what having a family is like for the first time in years. But when the neighborhood's newfound calm is disturbed by a series of racial incidents, Sepha may lose everything all over again.

Told in a haunting and powerful first-person narration that casts the streets of Washington, D.C., and Addis Ababa through Sepha's eyes, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears is a deeply affecting and unforgettable debut novel about what it means to lose a family and a country — and what it takes to create a new home.

Review:

"Barely suppressed despair and black wit infuse this beautifully observed debut from Ethiopian émigré Mengestu. Set over eight months in a gentrifying Washington, D.C., neighborhood in the 1970s, it captures an uptick in Ethiopian grocery store owner Sepha Stephanos's long-deferred hopes, as Judith, a white academic, fixes up the four-story house next to his apartment building, treats him to dinner and lets him steal a kiss. Just as unexpected is Sepha's friendship with Judith's biracial 11-year-old daughter, Naomi (one of the book's most vivid characters), over a copy of The Brothers Karamazov. Mengestu adds chiaroscuro with the story of Stephanos's 17-year exile from his family and country following his father's murder by revolutionary soldiers. After long days in the dusty, barely profitable shop, Sepha's two friends, Joseph from Congo and Kenneth from Kenya, joke with Sepha about African dictators and gently mock his romantic aspirations, while the neighborhood's loaded racial politics hang over Sepha and Judith's burgeoning relationship like a sword of Damocles. The novel's dirge-like tone may put off readers looking for the next Kite Runner, but Mengestu's assured prose and haunting set pieces (especially a series of letters from Stephanos's uncle to Jimmy Carter, pleading that he respect 'the deep friendship between our two countries') are heart-rending and indelible." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)

Review:

"One of the glories of the literature of exile is the sharp outlines a writer can bring to the contours of his adoptive society. For readers who were born in the writer's host country, such literature can uncover things that might otherwise be obscured by familiarity. Dinaw Mengestu's praiseworthy first novel, 'The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears,' draws upon this principle. Take, for example, this... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review)

Review:

"Mengestu, himself an Ethiopian immigrant, engages the reader in a deftly drawn portrait of dreams in the face of harsh realities from the perspective of immigrants." Booklist

Review:

"[A] poignant story providing food for thought for those concerned with poverty and immigration....Recommended." Library Journal

Review:

"Mengestu skirts immigrant-literature cliches and paints a beautiful portrait of a complex, conflicted man struggling with questions of love andloyalty. A nuanced slice of immigrant life." Kirkus Reviews

Review:

"A startling, necessary novel. Dinaw Mengestu's vision of America is clear and precise, opening our eyes to the country we inhabit, for better and for worse." Gary Shteyngart, author of Absurdistan and The Russian Debutante's Handbook

Review:

"This is a wonderful novel. It is not only the story of an Ethiopian immigrant living in Washington, DC — it is also, in the end, the story of this country, of the dreamers who continue to dream it despite the unfolding, unforgiving American nightmare. Dinaw Mengestu is a marvelous, abundantly talented writer." Rattawut Lapcharoensap, author of Sightseeing

Review:

"The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears is unlike any other novel I've ever read — I was captured from the first page, with this wry, melancholic and very funny trio of immigrant friends who have made their own small place in this world. Stephanos, with his voice of hope and memory and survival, is a marvelous creation, and his attempts at love and salvation are rendered with exquisite care and humor by Dinaw Mengestu, a shining entry into the literary world." Susan Straight, author of A Million Nightingales and Highwire Moon

Review:

"Mengestu has told a rich and lyrical story of displacement and loneliness. I was profoundly moved by this tale of an Ethiopian immigrant’s search for acceptance, peace, and identity. Some of the passages in Ethiopia are heartbreaking and almost unbearably painful. With effortless prose, Mengestu makes us feel this tortured soul’s longings, regrets, and in the end, his dreams of meaningful human connection." Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns

Review:

"For anyone who's caught the gaze of a foreign-born waiter or cabdriver and wished for a deeper understanding of his half-glimpsed life, reading fiction is one way to crack open the dusty window that often separates us....[A] deeply felt novel that deserves to be read." San Francisco Chronicle

Review:

"This novel...covers a lot of ground: race relations...and gentrification and what it means to leave your past behind as you look for a future." Oregonian

Review:

"Mengestu also has a sense of humor that is pitch perfect, falling between complete despair and pure sarcasm." Los Angeles Times

Review:

"[Mengestu's] straightforward language and his low-key voice combine to make a compelling narrative, one that loops back in time yet seems to move forward with an even pace." Dallas Morning News

Review:

"The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears is not a conventional immigrant novel....Mengestu has something more ambitious and fundamentally unsettling in mind." Chicago Tribune

Synopsis:

Before he can retire, Las Vegas detective Salazar is determined to solve a recent spate of murders. When he encounters a pair of conjoined twins with a container of blood near their car, hes sure he has apprehended the killers, and enlists the help of Dr. Sunil Singh, a South African transplant who specializes in the study of psychopaths. As Sunil tries to crack the twins, the implications of his research grow darker. Haunted by his betrayal of loved ones back home during apartheid, he seeks solace in the love of Asia, a prostitute with hopes of escaping that life. But Sunils own troubled past is fast on his heels in the form of a would-be assassin.

Suspenseful through the last page, The Secret History of Las Vegas is Chris Abanis most accomplished work to date, with his trademark visionary prose and a striking compassion for the inner lives of outsiders.

Synopsis:

Seventeen years ago, Sepha Stephanos fled the Ethiopian Revolution for a new start in the United States. Now he finds himself running a failing grocery store in a poor African-American section of Washington, D.C., his only companions two fellow African immigrants who share his bitter nostalgia and longing for his home continent. Years ago and worlds away Sepha could never have imagined a life of such isolation. As his environment begins to change, hope comes in the form of a friendship with new neighbors Judith and Naomi, a white woman and her biracial daughter. But when a series of racial incidents disturbs the community, Sepha may lose everything all over again.

Watch a QuickTime interview with Dinaw Mengestu about this book.

About the Author

Dinaw Mengestu was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 1978. In 1980, he immigrated to the United States with his mother and sister, joining his father, who had fled Ethiopia during the Red Terror. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and Columbia University's MFA program in fiction and the recipient of a 2006 fellowship in fiction from the New York Foundation for the Arts.

Product Details

ISBN:
9781594489402
Author:
Mengestu, Dinaw
Publisher:
Riverhead Trade
Author:
Abani, Chris
Subject:
General
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
United states
Subject:
Race relations
Subject:
Washington, d. c.
Subject:
Psychological
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
March 1, 2007
Binding:
Paperback
Grade Level:
from 12
Language:
English
Pages:
240
Dimensions:
7.75 x 5.06 in 1 lb
Age Level:
from 18

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears: A Novel Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$5.95 In Stock
Product details 240 pages Riverhead Books - English 9781594489402 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Barely suppressed despair and black wit infuse this beautifully observed debut from Ethiopian émigré Mengestu. Set over eight months in a gentrifying Washington, D.C., neighborhood in the 1970s, it captures an uptick in Ethiopian grocery store owner Sepha Stephanos's long-deferred hopes, as Judith, a white academic, fixes up the four-story house next to his apartment building, treats him to dinner and lets him steal a kiss. Just as unexpected is Sepha's friendship with Judith's biracial 11-year-old daughter, Naomi (one of the book's most vivid characters), over a copy of The Brothers Karamazov. Mengestu adds chiaroscuro with the story of Stephanos's 17-year exile from his family and country following his father's murder by revolutionary soldiers. After long days in the dusty, barely profitable shop, Sepha's two friends, Joseph from Congo and Kenneth from Kenya, joke with Sepha about African dictators and gently mock his romantic aspirations, while the neighborhood's loaded racial politics hang over Sepha and Judith's burgeoning relationship like a sword of Damocles. The novel's dirge-like tone may put off readers looking for the next Kite Runner, but Mengestu's assured prose and haunting set pieces (especially a series of letters from Stephanos's uncle to Jimmy Carter, pleading that he respect 'the deep friendship between our two countries') are heart-rending and indelible." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review A Day" by , "The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears is wonderfully written and moving. It gives personality and depth to the oft-mocked immigrant deli owner (Apu, anyone?) and draws a portrait of someone all readers can relate to. The story is carried by the wry humor of the observations that Stephanos and his friends make about life in America, and it's in those moments that Mengetsu does his best and most surprising work." (read the entire Esquire review)
"Review" by , "Mengestu, himself an Ethiopian immigrant, engages the reader in a deftly drawn portrait of dreams in the face of harsh realities from the perspective of immigrants."
"Review" by , "[A] poignant story providing food for thought for those concerned with poverty and immigration....Recommended."
"Review" by , "Mengestu skirts immigrant-literature cliches and paints a beautiful portrait of a complex, conflicted man struggling with questions of love andloyalty. A nuanced slice of immigrant life."
"Review" by , "A startling, necessary novel. Dinaw Mengestu's vision of America is clear and precise, opening our eyes to the country we inhabit, for better and for worse."
"Review" by , "This is a wonderful novel. It is not only the story of an Ethiopian immigrant living in Washington, DC — it is also, in the end, the story of this country, of the dreamers who continue to dream it despite the unfolding, unforgiving American nightmare. Dinaw Mengestu is a marvelous, abundantly talented writer."
"Review" by , "The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears is unlike any other novel I've ever read — I was captured from the first page, with this wry, melancholic and very funny trio of immigrant friends who have made their own small place in this world. Stephanos, with his voice of hope and memory and survival, is a marvelous creation, and his attempts at love and salvation are rendered with exquisite care and humor by Dinaw Mengestu, a shining entry into the literary world."
"Review" by , "Mengestu has told a rich and lyrical story of displacement and loneliness. I was profoundly moved by this tale of an Ethiopian immigrant’s search for acceptance, peace, and identity. Some of the passages in Ethiopia are heartbreaking and almost unbearably painful. With effortless prose, Mengestu makes us feel this tortured soul’s longings, regrets, and in the end, his dreams of meaningful human connection."
"Review" by , "For anyone who's caught the gaze of a foreign-born waiter or cabdriver and wished for a deeper understanding of his half-glimpsed life, reading fiction is one way to crack open the dusty window that often separates us....[A] deeply felt novel that deserves to be read."
"Review" by , "This novel...covers a lot of ground: race relations...and gentrification and what it means to leave your past behind as you look for a future."
"Review" by , "Mengestu also has a sense of humor that is pitch perfect, falling between complete despair and pure sarcasm."
"Review" by , "[Mengestu's] straightforward language and his low-key voice combine to make a compelling narrative, one that loops back in time yet seems to move forward with an even pace."
"Review" by , "The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears is not a conventional immigrant novel....Mengestu has something more ambitious and fundamentally unsettling in mind."
"Synopsis" by ,
Before he can retire, Las Vegas detective Salazar is determined to solve a recent spate of murders. When he encounters a pair of conjoined twins with a container of blood near their car, hes sure he has apprehended the killers, and enlists the help of Dr. Sunil Singh, a South African transplant who specializes in the study of psychopaths. As Sunil tries to crack the twins, the implications of his research grow darker. Haunted by his betrayal of loved ones back home during apartheid, he seeks solace in the love of Asia, a prostitute with hopes of escaping that life. But Sunils own troubled past is fast on his heels in the form of a would-be assassin.

Suspenseful through the last page, The Secret History of Las Vegas is Chris Abanis most accomplished work to date, with his trademark visionary prose and a striking compassion for the inner lives of outsiders.

"Synopsis" by ,
Seventeen years ago, Sepha Stephanos fled the Ethiopian Revolution for a new start in the United States. Now he finds himself running a failing grocery store in a poor African-American section of Washington, D.C., his only companions two fellow African immigrants who share his bitter nostalgia and longing for his home continent. Years ago and worlds away Sepha could never have imagined a life of such isolation. As his environment begins to change, hope comes in the form of a friendship with new neighbors Judith and Naomi, a white woman and her biracial daughter. But when a series of racial incidents disturbs the community, Sepha may lose everything all over again.

Watch a QuickTime interview with Dinaw Mengestu about this book.

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