Published on: Sunday, May 1, 2016 Takoma Park Newsletter

Friends to discuss prize-winning novel by Ethiopian author

By Ellen Robbins

Join the Friends of the Library Bimonthly Reading club on Wednesday, May 25 for a discussion of The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu. The author immigrated to America in 1980, when he was 29, after his family fled genocide in Ethiopia.

The protagonist in this novel is Sepha Stephanos, who settles in the Adams Morgan area of D.C., where he runs a small neighborhood grocery store. He lives in near isolation; his only friends at first are two fellow Africans, whose longing and nostalgia are as great as his own. In time he is befriended by neighbors Judith and Naomi – a white woman and her biracial daughter. However, as racial tensions and violence erupt in his community, his challenges are only beginning.

The New York Times Book Review called this work “A great African novel, a great Washington novel, and a great American novel…In Mengestu’s work, there’s no such thing as the nondescript life. He notices and there are whole worlds in his noticing. He has written a novel for an age ravaged by the moral and military fallout of cross-cultural incuriosity… there’s something hugely hopeful about this young writer’s watchful honesty and egalitarian tenderness.”

The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears is a Los Angeles Times Book Prize winner and Mengestu’s first novel. All are welcome to join the Friends book discussion, which will be held in the Hydrangea Room at 7:30 p.m. Copies of the book are available at the Takoma Park Maryland Library.

This article appeared in the May 2016 edition of the Takoma Park Newsletter. The Takoma Park Newsletter is available for download here.