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Esquire
Wednesday, February 14th, 2007
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The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears: A Novel

by Dinaw Mengestu

The Deli of Broken Dreams

A review by Anya C. Yurchyshyn

Dinaw Mengetsu's debut novel, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, tells the story of Sepha Stephanos, an Ethiopian immigrant living in Washington DC. Stephanos spends his days behind the counter of his failing deli trying to figure out how America works and how he can make it work for him. Instead of caring about wealth or standard status symbols like owning a home, he worries instead about achieving a different American Dream -- making this fickle country feel like home.

When a white woman and her biracial daughter move into his run-down neighborhood, they quickly befriend him and unintentionally tease him with the possibility of a family that could make America into a place he belongs. But a series of violent acts make it clear that that the newcomers aren't welcome in the gentrifying neighborhood. Soon, Stephanos realizes that he is just as far from his dream as he was when he arrived in America seventeen years before.

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.


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