The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears

The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears

4.1 14
by Dinaw Mengestu

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A literary debut hailed by The New York Times Book Review as "a great American novel."

Awards Include:
Finalist for the Young Lions Fiction Award
Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction
Winner of the Guardian First Book Prize
New York Times Notable Book
Winner of the National Book Foundation's See more details below


A literary debut hailed by The New York Times Book Review as "a great American novel."

Awards Include:
Finalist for the Young Lions Fiction Award
Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction
Winner of the Guardian First Book Prize
New York Times Notable Book
Winner of the National Book Foundation's “5 Under 35” Award
Recipient of a Lannan Literary Fellowship
Winner of the Prix du Premier Roman
Named the Seattle Reads Selection of 2008

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Rob Nixon
Again and again, Stephanos’s story makes us consider what it means to be displaced: from a local community, from a distant nation, from a love you had hoped to settle into. 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. In a society slick with “truthiness” — and Washington may be the capital of that — there’s something hugely hopeful about this young writer’s watchful honesty and egalitarian tenderness. This is a great African novel, a great Washington novel and a great American novel.
— The New York Times
San Francisco Chronicle
That "friendship" between the United States and Ethiopia, which was solidified when Ethiopia became a founding member of the League of Nations and later the United Nations, has long since been betrayed by the Cold War and oil politics abroad. Yet, as Mengestu closely observes the human face of that betrayal, as it plays out amid the racism and class politics of Washington, D.C., he gives us another chance to understand the Ethiopian American experience, in a deeply felt novel that deserves to be read.
Washington Post Book World
With its well-observed characters and brisk narrative pacing, greatly benefited by the characters' tension-laced wit, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears is an assured literary debut by a writer worth watching.
The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears is a tender, thoughtful novel that quietly takes on serious themes: the meaning of home and family, of nationality and exile, of isolation and connection.
Chris Abani
[W]renching and important...Seldom has a character emerged in a recent novel who is so compellingly dark but honest, hopeful but dismal, and able to turn his chronicle into a truly American tapestry...Mengestu has made, and made well, a novel that is a retelling of the immigrant experience.
Los Angeles Times
Chicago Tribune
[E]loquent...The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears is not a conventional immigrant novel, and Stephanos is not a garden-variety emigre...deeply moving.
The Oregonian
This is not a story for only an immigrant audience. The author, Dinaw Mengestu, writes in a way that makes this a universal story. In doing so, he does what the best writers accomplish.
Alan Cheuse
This first novel, by an Ethiopian-American, sings of the immigrant experience, an old American story that people renew every generation, but it sings in an existential key...His 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
[W]onderfully written and moving.
Richard McCann
[A] tender, enthralling debut novel about the hidden lives of immigrants who are caught between the brutal Africa they have fled and an America that will not full admit them...Mengestu brilliantly illuminates both the trauma of exile and the ways in which so many of us are still looking for home in America.
O, The Oprah Magazine
Miami Herald
These characters are artfully crafted, original and complex in their humanity. Mengestu wants us to know them, to hear their story, and he succeeds in giving us a novel that is fresh and new.
Publishers Weekly
Barely suppressed despair and black wit infuse this beautifully observed debut from Ethiopian migr 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. (Feb.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Sometimes the American Dream isn't all one imagines it to be. Sepha Stephanos fled the Ethiopian Revolution as a teenager, having seen his father beaten and removed from the family home. Now, nearly two decades later, he owns the local grocery in a changing Washington, DC, neighborhood. Evenings are spend with his first friends in America, also African immigrants, who quiz one another on African revolutionary trivia. His poor African American neighbors have always kept his store afloat, but now he sees a chance for riches as successful professionals begin buying up the decrepit buildings in the neighborhood and returning them to their earlier splendor. When he befriends his new neighbors, a white professor and her biracial daughter, Sepha begins to realize how much he has missed any connection with family. But the neighborhoods revitalization doesn't help its original inhabitants-rents are rising, old timers are being evicted so that their buildings can be rehabbed, and Sepha is now in danger of losing his store. It's a poignant story providing food for thought for those concerned with poverty and immigration. First novelist Mengestu moved to American with his family as a toddler, fleeing the Ethiopian Revolution. Recommended for public and academic libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/06.]-Debbie Bogenschutz, Cincinnati State Technical & Community Coll. Lib. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
After 17 years, an Ethiopian immigrant wonders to what extent he has become an American. Every Tuesday evening, three friends meet in the back room of Sepha Stephanos's bedraggled Logan Circle convenience store to drink, give advice and wax philosophical about Africa, their mother continent. The trio-"Ken the Kenyan," "Joe from the Congo" and Sepha, who was so skinny he didn't need a nickname to remind them that he was Ethiopian-met as young hotel clerks when they first arrived in Washington, D.C., but since then, they have taken different paths. Joseph and Kenneth graduated from Georgetown and went on to get higher degrees and well-paying jobs, while Sepha attended community college and then opened his store. As an upscale clientele moves into the predominantly lower-class African-American neighborhood, Sepha's business dwindles. With the changes, though, comes Judith, a wealthy white woman, and Naomi, her enchanting biracial daughter. Naomi and Sepha strike up an unlikely friendship, and he spends evenings in the empty store with her, reading Dostoevsky. Judith begins to join them, and she and Sepha dance around the possibility of a romantic relationship. As racial tensions grow in the neighborhood, Sepha wonders if he will be able to woo Judith. But around the holidays, she suddenly leaves her house and sends Naomi to boarding school. Alone again, Sepha recalls his childhood in Addis Ababa, where, as a member of the upper class, he'd had high hopes for a different kind of life, before he witnessed his father's murder and fled the country. 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.

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Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
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Sold by:
Penguin Group
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File size:
299 KB
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Khaled Hosseini
Mengestu has told a rich and lyrical story of displacement and loneliness. I was profoundly moved by this tale of Ethiopian immigrant's search for acceptance, peace, and identity. (Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns)

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