How to Read the Air [NOOK Book]

Overview

A "beautifully written"* (New York Times Book Review) novel of redemption by a prize-winning international literary star.

From the acclaimed author of The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears comes a heartbreaking literary masterwork about love, family, and the power of imagination.

Following the death of his father Yosef, Jonas Woldemariam feels compelled to make sense of the volatile generational and cultural ties that have forged him. Leaving ...

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How to Read the Air

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Overview

A "beautifully written"* (New York Times Book Review) novel of redemption by a prize-winning international literary star.

From the acclaimed author of The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears comes a heartbreaking literary masterwork about love, family, and the power of imagination.

Following the death of his father Yosef, Jonas Woldemariam feels compelled to make sense of the volatile generational and cultural ties that have forged him. Leaving behind his marriage and job in New York, he sets out to retrace his mother and father's honeymoon as young Ethiopian immigrants and weave together a family history that will take him from the war-torn country of his parents' youth to a brighter vision of his life in America today. In so doing, he crafts a story- real or invented-that holds the possibility of reconciliation and redemption.


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Editorial Reviews

Miguel Syjuco
…deeply thought out, deliberate in its craftsmanship and in many parts beautifully written…In How to Read the Air, [Mengestu] has forged something meaningful from his cultural perspective. The book lingers in the mind as personal—not in the characters' specifics, but in their frustrated dislocation in the world.
—The New York Times
Ron Charles
How to Read the Air grows into a tragic and affecting paradox, a demonstration of the limits of fiction, the inability of stories to heal or preserve. And yet there it is, this novel—wholly contrived—offering up its wisdom about the immigrant experience with the kind of power mere facts couldn't convey.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Mengestu (The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears) stunningly illuminates the immigrant experience across two generations. Jonas Woldemariam's parents, near strangers when they marry in violence-torn Ethiopia, spend most of the early years of their marriage separated, eventually reuniting in America, but their ensuing life together devolves into a mutual hatred that forces a contentious divorce. Three decades later, Jonas, himself moving toward a divorce, retraces his parents' fateful honeymoon road trip from Peoria, Ill., to Nashville in an attempt to understand an upbringing that turned him into a man who has "gone numb as a tactical strategy" and become a fluent and inveterate liar--a skill that comes in handy at his job at an immigration agency, where he embellishes African immigrants' stories so that they might be granted asylum. Mengestu draws a haunting psychological portrait of recent immigrants to America, insecure and alienated, striving to fit in while mourning the loss of their cultural heritage and social status. Mengestu's precise and nuanced prose evokes characters, scenes, and emotions with an invigorating and unparalleled clarity. (Oct.)
The Oprah Magazine O
…quiet and beautiful…thanks to uncanny empathy and a deep understanding of history, Mengestu transcends heartbreak and offers up the hope that despite all obstacles, love can survive.
NPR's Fresh Air
...it's a sad stunner of a meditation on the illusory idea of asylum.

Mengestu's main character, Jonas Woldemariam, is not even at home in his own skin, let alone in his adopted home of New York City. A first-generation American, Jonas grew up in the Midwest, the only child of Ethiopian refugees who barely spoke to each other during the decades of their troubled marriage. "What we were was something closer to a jazz trio than a family," Jonas says, "a performance group that got together every now and then to play a few familiar notes before dispersing back to their real, private lives."

Jonas has earned a hard-knocks advanced degree in alienation: He works, first, at an immigrant aid society; later he gets a job teaching composition at a snooty prep school in Manhattan. The hasty marriage that Jonas has embarked on with a lawyer at the aid society is falling apart. As it does, Jonas keeps thinking back on his family legacy of rootlessness: his parents' transplanted lives in Peoria, Ill., and, before that, his father's rough exodus from Ethiopia to Europe, sealed in a box smuggled aboard a cargo ship. The narrative jumps around restlessly among all these time periods, but the description Jonas relates secondhand of his father's odyssey is especially evocative...

Newsweek
... makes us rethink the tropes of immigrant literature ....[a]t a time when some of our most powerful, and popular, stories are narrated by foreigners (and some of our most contentious public debates concern foreigners' rights to be in this country), Mengestu's novel keenly explores our complicated relationship with the idea of the immigrant experience.
Library Journal
The characters in Mengestu's triumphant second novel (after the award-winning The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears) are forever having what one of them calls a "leaving experience." Ethiopian immigrant Yosef passed many borders before arriving in America; wife Miriam continually walks away from her abusive husband (even leaving their wrecked car in a ditch) before finally achieving permanent escape; and their diffident son, Jonas, the story's narrator, leaves dreams unfulfilled and eventually leaves his marriage—though, says his wife, he was never really there in the first place. The well-constructed narrative parallels Jonas's story and that of his parents, deftly cutting from the slow fizzle of Jonas's marriage to his parents' troubled lives to their iconic car trip from Peoria to Nashville before he was born. After his marriage ends, Jonas reconstructs that trip—a device that frames the novel, though it's really the emotional journey that matters. VERDICT In authoritative prose that flows like liquid gold, Mengestu tells an absorbing story of how we learn that simply going forward is in fact to triumph. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/10.]—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal
Kirkus Reviews

A sometimes somber, always searching novel of love, loss and the immigrant experience by Ethiopia-born writer Mengestu (The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears, 2006).

Mariam and Yosef are miserable, and for several reasons, not least the fact that husband and wife do not really know each other. Torn from their homeland by civil war, they have been plopped down on the flats of Illinois, settled in the white-bread city of Peoria and left to fend for themselves. Yosef, though, has ambition, and in time he puts himself behind the wheel of a weathered Monte Carlo—"a shabbier shade of red than the one she imagined"—and points its nose toward a destination, Nashville, since he loves nothing more than country music. It is not the honeymoon that Mariam, separated from Yosef for years, has dreamed of, and indeed, though the distance from Peoria to Nashville is less than 500 miles, it turns into something quite spectacularly ugly. Years later, their son, Jonas Woldemariam, is grappling with reality and identity. Smart and literate, he's living in New York City, teaching English at a fancy prep school while provoking wonder that he's so well-spoken and up on things American. Of course, he is American, thanks to a life in Peoria; when Jonas tells an interviewer of that fact, Mengestu writes, with gentle but pointed humor, "I could see him wondering if it was possible that there was more than one Peoria in this world, another situated perhaps thousands of miles away from the one he had heard of in the Midwest and therefore completely off his radar." As if by way of proof, Jonas has a suitable roster of American neuroses and problems, including a marriage that seems to be disintegrating with each day. And what better to speed that collapse than to try to re-create his parents' fateful journey, tragedy and all?

Elegant, confident prose brings this tale to life, and though the trope of the road as a journey to self-understanding is a very old one, Mengestu gives it a fresh reading.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781101444351
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 10/14/2010
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 284,858
  • File size: 259 KB

Meet the Author

Dinaw Mengestu

Dinaw Mengestu was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 1978. He is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, a fellowship in fiction from the New York Foundation for the Arts and a Lannan Literary Fellowship, and was named a “20 under 40” writer to watch by The New Yorker. Mengestu’s writing has appeared in The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Harper’s, Granta, and other publications. He lives with his family in Washington, D.C.

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Read an Excerpt

Part I
I

It was four hundred eighty-four miles from my parents' home in Peoria, Illinois, to Nashville, Tennessee, a distance that in a seven-year-old red Monte Carlo driving at roughly sixty miles an hour could be crossed in eight to twelve hours, depending on certain variables such as the number of road signs offering side excursions to historical landmarks, and how often my mother, Mariam, would have to go to the bathroom. They called the trip a vacation, but only because neither of them was comfortable with the word "honeymoon," which in its marrying of two completely separate words, each of which they understood on its own, seemed to imply when joined together a lavishness that neither was prepared to accept. They were not newlyweds, but their three years apart had made them strangers. They spoke to each other in whispers, half in Amharic, half in English, as if any one word uttered too loudly could reveal to both of them that, in fact, they had never understood each other; they had never really known who the other person was at all.

Learning a new language was, in the end, not so different from learning to fall in love with your husband again, Mariam thought. While standing in front of the bathroom mirror early in the morning, she often told herself, in what she thought of as nearly flawless diction, "Men can be strange. Wives are different." It was an expression she had heard from one of the women at the Baptist church that she and her husband had begun attending. A group of women were standing in the parking lot after the sermon was over, and one of them had turned to Mariam and said, "Men can be so strange. Wives are just different."

At the time she had simply repeated the words back, almost verbatim, "Yes. That is true. Men can be strange," because that was the only way that she could be certain that what she said was understood by everyone. What she would have liked to say was far more complicated and involved a list of sizable differences that by any other standards would have been considered irreconcilable. Regardless, since arriving in America six months earlier, she had pushed herself to learn new things about her husband, like why, for example, he spoke to himself when no one seemed to be looking, and why some days, after coming home from work, he would sit parked in the driveway for an extra ten or twenty minutes while she watched him from behind the living room curtains. On some nights he would wake up and leave the bedroom, careful not to rouse her but always failing because most nights Mariam hardly slept at all. He would lie down on the couch in the living room naked, and from the bedroom she would eventually hear him let out a small whimper followed by a grunt, and he would return to bed and sleep soundly until the morning. My mother learned these things and filed them into a corner of her brain that she thought of as being specifically reserved for facts about her husband. And in just the same way, she pushed herself to try new words and form new sentences in English, because just as there was a space reserved for her husband, there was another for English, and another one for foreign foods, and another for the names of streets near her house. She learned to say, "It was a pleasure to meet you." And she learned individual words, like "scattered" and "diligent" and "sarcastic." She learned the past tense. For example, I was tired yesterday, instead of: I am tired yesterday, or Yesterday tired I am. She learned that Russell Street led to Garfield Street, which would then take you to Main Street, which you could follow to I-74, which could take you east or west to anywhere you wanted to go. Eventually they would all make sense. Verbs would be placed in the right order, sarcasm would be funny, the town would be familiar: past, present, future, and husband, they could all be under stood if given enough patience.

At this point in their marriage they had spent more time apart than together. She added up the days by rounding up some months, rounding down a few others. For every one day they had spent together, 3.18 had been spent apart. To her, this meant a debt had to be repaid, although who owed the other what remained unclear. Is it the one who gets left behind who suffers more, or is it the one who's sent out alone into the world to forage and create a new life? She had always hated numbers, but since most of the English she heard still escaped her, she now took comfort in them and searched for things to add. At the grocery store she calculated the cost of everything she brought to the register before she got there: a can of peas, seventy-eight cents; a package of salt, forty-nine cents; a bag of onions, forty cents. The smiling faces behind the register always offered a few words out loud before saying the total. All of them were lost on her, but what difference did it make if she didn't know how to take a compliment, banter, or understand what the phrase "two-for-one" meant. She knew the number at the end, and that number, because it didn't need translation, was power, and the fact that she knew it as she went up to the register filled her with a sense of accomplishment and pride unlike anything she had known since coming here. It made her feel, in its own quiet fleeting way, as if she were a woman to be reckoned with, a woman whom others would someday come to envy.

She never knew what her husband had gone through in the three years they had been apart, nor had she ever really tried to imagine. Say America enough times, try to picture it enough times, and you end up with a few skyscrapers stuck in the middle of a cornfield with thousands of cars driving around. The one picture she had received during those three years was of him sitting in the driver's seat of a large car, the door open, his body half in the car, half out. He kept one arm on the steering wheel, the other balanced on his leg. He looked handsome and dignified, his mustache neatly trimmed, his thick curly hair sculpted into a perfect ball that highlighted the almost uncanny resemblance his head had to the globe that her father kept perched on top of his chest of drawers.

When she first saw the picture she didn't believe the car was his. She thought he had found it parked on the side of the road and had seized the opportunity to show himself off, which was indeed almost exactly what he had done. Still, that didn't stop her from showing the picture to her mother, sisters, and girlfriends, or from writing on the back, in English: Yosef Car. She expected other pictures would eventually follow: pictures of him standing in front of a large house with a yard; pictures of him in a suit with a briefcase in hand; and then later, as the days, weeks, and months collided, and two years was quickly approaching three, she began to wait for pictures of him with his arm around another woman, with two young children at his side. She had secretly feared the latter would happen from the day he first left, because who had ever heard of a man waiting for his wife? The world didn't work that way. Men came into your life and stayed only as long as you could convince them to. She even named the children for him: the boy Adam and the girl Sarah, names that she would never have chosen for her own children because they were common and typical, and Mariam's children, when they came, were going to be extraordinary.

When no such pictures arrived, she wanted to write him and tell him to show her a picture of him in the middle of something, a square, a city park, a picture in which he played just one, minor role.

"Show me a picture of you doing something," she had wanted to write, but that wasn't it exactly. What she wanted was to see him somehow fully alive in a picture, breathing, walking, laughing, living his life without her.

On the morning they left for Nashville, my mother packed a small suitcase with two weeks' worth of underwear, three heavy wool sweaters she had bought at a garage sale for two dollars apiece, and pants and shirts suitable for summer, fall, and winter, even though it was the first week of September and so far the days had been nothing but mild, sunny, and occasionally even too warm for the thin cotton tank tops she had seen other women wearing as they walked casually through the aisles of the grocery store, through shopping malls, and down the deserted Main Street. Those women were neither slim nor graceful. They were plain, pale, and average, and to her eyes entirely indistinguishable one from another, which was precisely what she resented and envied the most. The trip was supposed to last from start to finish four nights and five days, but as she stuffed her suitcase to its limits, she decided it was best to always be prepared for the unexpected, for the broken-down car, for the potential wrong turn, for the long walk at night that for one reason or another never ended. She had packed up her entire life once before, and now six months later, if she had learned anything at all about herself, it was that she could do with far less. She could, if she wanted, get away with almost nothing.

Her husband, Yosef, was already waiting for her outside in the red Monte Carlo he had scraped and saved for more than a year to buy and now could hardly afford. It was not the same car as the one in the photo. She couldn't have said how or why, but it was less elegant, smaller perhaps, and even though the picture had been black and white, she thought of the Monte Carlo he was waiting in as being a shabbier shade of red than the one she imagined.

The car horn honked twice for her: two short high-pitched bleeps that could have gone unnoticed but did not because she half expected, half prayed for them. When they came she pictured a bird—a dove, or something dovelike—being set free, its rapidly fluttering wings disturbing the air. Had she known more words in English she would have said the sound of the horn pierced through the silence, pierced being the operative word here, with its suggestion that something violent had occurred.

If he honks one more time, my mother said to herself, I will refuse to go. It was a matter of principle and conviction, or at least something that so closely resembled the two that even if it was merely pride or rage in disguise, she was willing to fight and tear down the house to stand by it. She had, after all, waited for him for years—a virtual widow but without the corpse and sympathy. If she was owed anything now it was time. Time to pack her clothes, fix the straps of her dress, and take account of everything she might have missed and would perhaps potentially later need.

If he honks again, she told herself, I will unpack my suitcase, lock the bedroom door, and wait until he leaves without me.

This was the way most if not all of my parents' fights began. With a minor, almost invisible transgression that each seized upon, as if they were fighting not about being rushed or about too many lights having been left on, but for their very right to exist, to live and breathe God's clean air. As a child I learned quickly that a fight was never far off or long in the making, and imagined it sometimes as a real physical presence lurking in the shadows of whatever space my parents happened to occupy at that given moment—a grocery store, a car, a restaurant. I pictured the fight sitting down with us on the couch in front of the television, a solemn black figure in executioner's robes, a caricature of death and tragedy clearly stolen from books and movies but no less real as a result. Ghosts are common to the life of any child: mine just happened to come to dinner more often than most.

The last fight they had had before that morning left my mother with a deep black and purple bruise on her right arm, just below her shoulder. The bruise had a rotting plum color and that was how she thought of it, as a rotten plum, one pressed so fast and hard into her skin that it had broken through the surface and flattened itself out underneath. She found it almost beautiful. That the body could turn so many different shades amazed her, made her believe that there was more lurking under the surface of our skin than a mess of blood and tissue.

She waited with one hand on top of the suitcase for the car to honk again. She tried not to think it, but it came to her nonetheless, a selfish, almost impregnable desire to hear even the accidental bleating of a car horn crying out.

Just once more, she thought. Honk just once more.

She held her breath. She closed the lid of the suitcase in complete silence. With her hand pressing down on the top, she zipped it halfway shut. A tiny stitch of blue fabric from a pair of padded hospital socks picked up two weeks earlier peeked out over the edge. She pressed the sock back in with one finger, granted the zipper its closure, and with that, acknowledged that on this occasion her husband had won. He had held out long enough for her to complete the one minor task that stood between her and leaving, and despite her best efforts, that was how she saw it, as a victory won and a loss delivered. She was going. Even if he pressed on the horn now with all his might she would have to go, would have to walk down the stairs and apologize for having taken so long, because he had pressed her just far enough without going too far. Sometimes she suspected that he knew the invisible lines she was constantly drawing. There were dozens of such lines spread out all over their one-bedroom apartment like tripwire that, once crossed, signaled the start of yet another battle. There was the line around how many dishes could be left in the sink, another around shoes worn in the house, and others that had to do with looks and touches, with the way he entered a room, took off his clothes, or kissed her on the cheek. Once, after an especially rough night of sleep, she felt her husband's breath on the back of her neck. It was warm and came in the steady consistent bursts of a man soundly asleep. She didn't know which one she really hated—the breaths or the man breathing. In the end, she created a wall of pillows behind her, one she would deny having made the next morning.

The four large oak trees that lined the driveway were the last of their kind. The largest and oldest of the group stood just a few feet away from the two-story duplex that my mother and father shared with a frail, hunchbacked older woman with milky-blue eyes who hissed under her breath every time she passed my mother on her way in or out of the house. The oak trees cooled the living room in the summer, allowing the afternoon light to filter through seemingly oversized leaves that Mariam thought of as deliberately keeping the worst parts of the light out, leaving only the softer, quieter shades. Now that it was September and supposedly the harshest of the summer heat had passed, she noticed as she prepared to leave the apartment that the leaves nearest the tops of the trees had begun to turn; a small pile of dead ones had already grown around their bases. So this was fall. A woman at the Baptist church had told her just a few weeks earlier, "Oh, just wait until fall. You'll see. You'll love it." Her name was Agnes and she wore a curly black wig to hide the bald patches in the center of her head. A-G-N-E-S, Mariam wrote on the back of a church pamphlet that went on in great detail about the agony of Christ, which prompted her to write, after their first meeting, A-G-O-N-Y, on the back of the pamphlet, and next to that, Agnes is in agony, which was a simple sentence, with a subject and verb, which formed a declarative statement that Mariam decided was more likely than not absolutely true.

At the time my mother had thought to herself, I could never love anything called "fall." There was fall and Fall. To fall was to sink, to drop. When my mother was nine, her grandfather came out of his bedroom at the back of the house wearing only a robe with the strings untied. He was deaf and half blind and had been for as long as Mariam could remember. He walked into the middle of the living room, and having reached the center, where he was surrounded on all sides by his family, fell, not to his knees, but straight forward, like a tree that had been felled, the side of his head splitting open on the edge of the fireplace mantel, spraying the wall and couch with blood. That was one way to fall.

One could also fall down a flight of stairs, as in, your husband falls down the stairs while leaving for work one morning. She had this thought at least once, sometimes as many as three times a week. She pictured him tripping, stumbling, feet over head, just like the characters in the cartoons she had grown addicted to watching between the hours of one p.m. and four p.m. In those shows the characters all shook the fall off after a few seconds, bending an arm back into place here, twisting an ankle there. The cartoons made her laugh, and when she thought of her husband falling down the steps, his tall, narrow body perfectly suited to roll uninterrupted down the shag-carpeted stairwell, stopping perhaps briefly at the one minor bend that led to the final descent, it was only partly with those cartoon images in mind. When real bodies fell, as Mariam knew well enough, they did not get up. They did not bounce back or spring into shape. They crumpled and needed to be rescued.

Despite my mother's best efforts to resist fall, she found herself taken by the season more and more each day. The sun set earlier, and soon she learned, an entire hour would be shaved off the day, an act that she sometimes wished could be repeated over and over until the day was nothing more than a thumbnail sketch of its former self. The nights were growing marginally but noticeably cooler. Leaves were changing, and children who over the course of the summer had ruled the neighborhood like tyrants were once again neatly arranged in groups of twos and threes each morning, beaten (or so Mariam thought) into submission by the changing rules of the season. There was enough room in the shrinking day to believe that the world was somehow sensitive to grief and longing, and responded to it the same way she did when she felt convinced that time had been arranged incorrectly, making the loss of one extra minute nearly every day a welcome relief.

My mother could never have said she loved fall, but as she walked down the steps with her suitcase in hand toward the red Monte Carlo her husband had been waiting in for nearly an hour, she could have said that she respected its place as a mediator between two extremes. Fall came and went, while winter was endured and summer was revered. Fall was the repose that made both possible and bearable, and now here she was with her husband next to her, heading headlong into an early-fall afternoon with only the vaguest ideas of who they were becoming and what came next.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 25 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 25 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 29, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Add this to the top of your list!

    How To Read The Air by Dinaw Mengestu should be on everyone's must read list for the year. It is beautifully written with such depth in his characters that you feel not just that you know them but that they are part your family, for better or worst. While I didn't always like them I loved their story. I won my copy from Goodreads First Reads and have already passed it on to my best friend to read (with the understanding I get it back of course!).

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted November 11, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Truth and Lies---can you tell the difference?

    How to Read the Air is the latest book from Dinaw Mengestu, and it's one that manages to explore the subtle differences between what we believe and what may be true.

    Briefly, it is the story of a man named Jonas, who attempts to reconstruct his parents first years in the US when they emigrated from Ethiopia. Their marriage was fractured and strange, and in the wake of his own disastrous marriage, he hopes to find answers to his personal identity by going back to his parent's lives. He believes that by better understanding them, he can make sense of his own awkwardness. He describes his youth:



    "I had always suspected that at some early point in my life, while still living with my parents and their daily battles, I had gone numb as a tactical strategy, perhaps at exactly that moment when we're supposed to be waking up to the world and stepping into our own."

    However, rather than being a straightforward story of nostalgia, Mengestu deepens the narrative by showing, immediately, that Jonas is not exactly truthful. He works for an agency that helps new immigrants acquire legal citizenship in the US, and he's known for his smudging the lines of truth to create more sympathetic experiences for his clients. In other words, he lies, boldly yet with the awareness of remaining credible. Thus, we learn our narrator is unreliable. How much truth will be revealed as he relates the story of his parents and his own marriage? This creates suspense and makes understanding the characters that much more complicated. A reader is forced to examine each statement and weigh it for accuracy, and consider what Jonas may be trying to hide.

    First, we learn of his parents. They emigrated separately, his father first with his mother coming a year later. They are two incredibly different personality types: his father is perceptive and quiet, with a gift for noticing his surroundings and an almost sixth-sense for staying out of trouble. His focus on intangible concepts makes him reserved and wise. His mother, on the other hand, is obsessed with the tangible: possessions made her feel safe and contented in Ethiopia, where her status was high. Now in the US, her position in the world has changed, and as a minority with less wealth than she's used to, she is insecure and angry.

    Jonas himself married Angela, another lost soul who finds security in squirreling money away, while occasionally succumbing to a pair of Jimmy Choos for their therapeutic benefit. Angela is the most fascinating character to me, and in one of her conversations, she also reveals what she thinks of 'telling the truth':

    "There's no such thing as kind of true. If I told you the whole story, you could say it's true, but you don't know the story. [.] Everyone thinks they know the whole story because they saw something like it on television or read about it in a magazine. To them it's all just one story told over and over. Change the dates and the names but it's the same. Well, that's not true. It's not the same story."

    Angela is beyond needy, and her outlet for her insecurities is to control others as much as possible. She pushes Jonas to change every chance she gets. Despite her success as an attorney, her deep unhappiness is revealed in snarky remarks and a mistrust of everyone. Jonas and Angela are doomed by their inability to know truth. Significantly, Angela is portrayed much like his mother-focused on concrete items she can see and own, while Jonas is more cerebral and al

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 17, 2013

    I learned so much from this book

    :)

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  • Posted January 10, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    What a disappointment

    This was the most annoying piece of drivel I have read in a very long time. I suffered through this book. I have read "The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears" by this author in the past. While I wouldn't give it rave reviews, it was ok. I purchased this book because I wanted to support an Ethiopian author, as my husband is Ethiopian.
    This is not a novel - it is a 320 page essay of pure fluffy words. If, and when, there was dialogue between Jonas and his wife, it was stilted. The author never gives any character development which leaves the reader feeling absolutely nothing for the main character, nor his immigrant parents. The book jacket description is a false lure into a storyline that does not exist. How can Jonas "set out to retrace his parents steps" when he doesn't talk to either one of them? He just made up stuff he "thought" might have happened as he went along. What reconciliation? What redemption? How this book received such "high literary acclaim" is beyond my reach.
    If you want to read books by literary talented Ethiopians, I suggest the following two books. They are brilliant.

    Notes From The Hyena's Belly by Nega Mezlekia

    Beneath The Lion's Gaze by Maaza Mengiste

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