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All Our Names by Dinaw Mengestu
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All Our Names

by Dinaw Mengestu

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Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
All Our Names by Dinaw Mengestu is a sombre look at the uprising during an African revolution from the eyes of a nameless and yet, multi-named man.

It is a story of two men whose friendship and love travel through the turmoil of civil unrest until the fight against government becomes so dangerous as to infiltrate their consciousness, blurring the lines between fighting for freedom and the journey toward moral corruption.

While the fight festers on, the two companions, Langston and Isaac, delve deeper and further apart—one into the crux of leadership and the pain of betrayal, the other into the safety of anonymity and the arms of a woman whose ignorance of his past keeps their relationship both at arm’s length.

The point of view interchanges between Helen and Isaac, a world recollected by sparse memory and another world of sanitized unknowing. There is conflict: political, geographical, racial, and a tone that readily maintains the mystery in the book.

While the details of the characters’ lives are not dwelt upon, the characters themselves resonate truth by the natural and revealing nuances of their narrative. The tone of the narrative is coded, bilingual in what is said and what cannot be spoken. And the tension in the novel, as well as its plot, resigns to its deep emotion.

To read the rest of my review, you're more than welcome to visit my blog, The Bibliotaphe Closet at: http://zaraalexis.wordpress.com

- Zara
( )
  ZaraD.Garcia-Alvarez | Jun 6, 2017 |
Engaging read, especially the first half. The second half for me had lost its edge so I give it 3 stars instead of 4. Set in the 70s, this story is told in the first person by two individuals: Helen, a white social worker in a small Midwestern town, and Daniel, a young African man who gets pulled into a revolution in Uganda. Very very well written. I too am glad I read it. ( )
  cjservis | Jan 17, 2016 |
Isaac immigrates from war-torn Uganda and lands in a small Midwestern town where Helen is assigned to him as his social worker. They fall for each other and Helen for the first time encounters racism. We hear about Isaac's involvement in the downfall of the government and how he came to immigrate. ( )
  mojomomma | Jan 6, 2016 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
All Our Names by Dinaw Mengestu has some beautifully written passages, and the chapters alternating between the two main characters, Isaac and Helen, works well for the story.

Helen is a social worker in the 70’s who wants to shake up the expectations of her white, middle-class upbringing. She is assigned to help Isaac adapt to the United States. In Isaac’s chapters, he tells of his life in Africa, and his journey to a failed student uprising in Uganda. The parallels between the characters’ fights against the status quo, the importance of family , the need for human connections, and search for identity are made clear with the alternating view-point structure.

This was an audio book version; these typically don’t keep my attention. This one did, and I enjoyed it enough that I will likely read other novels by this author (although, probably not in audio format). ( )
  kcaroth1 | Aug 31, 2015 |
Mid-western social worker, who still lives at home with her widowed mother, has a relationship with an African man who is a visiting scholar and keeper of many secrets regarding his identity and his past. Set in a time when mixed race couples were taboo, particularly in the American midwest. Interesting flashbacks to politically turbulent Africa that teach us how "Isaac" arrived in his current situation. ( )
  marcal | Jan 13, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
Dinaw Mengestu continues to explore the violent uprooting and uneasy exile of his two previous novels, Children of the Revolution and How to Read the Air, in what is his most impressive examination yet of the African diaspora. At its heart lie two impassioned love stories, divergently expressed and played out.

Mengestu’s style is restrained, but his scope is vast – moving between the stunning East African landscape, where even the splendour of the sunset is a portent, to an introverted Illinois, a microcosm of America’s collective guilt at the aftermath of the disastrous war in Vietnam and its reluctance to accept a post-segregation society.

Worlds on a cusp, powerfully drawn: notable above all is Mengestu’s desperately moving portrait of a compromised friendship.
 
What's fascinating about All Our Names is the unsettling way it engages with history – both the history of Uganda and literary history. Those with the right knowledge will be able to place this novel in an exact historical context, but that's rather beside the point. This is a book trying to pull away from fixed dates and places just as Helen's Isaac is trying to locate his sense of self without reference to location or the events of his past.
added by kidzdoc | editThe Guardian, Giles Foden (Jun 4, 2014)
 
For with “All Our Names,” he has grounded his search in a story so straightforward but at the same time so mysterious that you can’t turn the pages fast enough, and when you’re done, your first impulse is to go back to the beginning and start over.
added by ozzer | editNew York Times, MALCOLM JONES (Mar 19, 2014)
 
“All Our Names” is an immigrant story from a writer fully conscious that he’s working in a genre as crowded as Ellis Island. What he presents here is tantalizingly laconic — long on mood, short on details — an attempt to represent the conflicted emotions of someone who has survived the loss of his family, his friends, his country, his identity.
 
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When Isaac and I first met at the university, we both pretended that the campus and the streets of the capital were as familiar to us as the dirt paths of the rural villages we had grown up and lived in until only a few months earlier, even though neither of us had ever been to a city before and had no idea what it meant to live in such close proximity to so many people whose faces, much less names, we would never know.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 038534998X, Hardcover)

From Dinaw Mengestu, a recipient of the National Book Foundation's 5 under 35 Award, the New Yorker's 20 under 40 Award, and a 2012 MacArthur Foundation genius grant, comes a novel about exile, about the loneliness and fragmentation of lives that straddle countries and histories.

All Our Names is the story of a young man who comes of age during an African revolution, drawn from the hushed halls of his university into the intensifying clamor of the streets outside. But as the line between idealism and violence becomes increasingly blurred, and the path of revolution leads to almost certain destruction, he leaves behind his country and friends for America. There, pretending to be an exchange student, he falls in love with a social worker and settles into the routines of small-town life. Yet this idyll is inescapably darkened by the secrets of his past: the acts he committed and the work he left unfinished. Most of all, he is haunted by the charismatic leader who first guided him to revolution and then sacrificed everything to ensure his freedom.

Subtle, intelligent, and quietly devastating, All Our Names is a novel about identity, about the names we are given and the names we earn. The emotional power of Mengestu's work is indelible.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:38 -0400)

An unforgettable love story about a searing affair between an American woman and an African man in 1970s America and an unflinching novel about the fragmentation of lives that straddle countries and histories. All Our Names is the story of two young men who come of age during an African revolution, drawn from the safe confines of the university campus into the intensifying clamor of the streets outside. But as the line between idealism and violence becomes increasingly blurred, the friends are driven apart--one into the deepest peril, as the movement gathers inexorable force, and the other into the safety of exile in the American Midwest. There, pretending to be an exchange student, he falls in love with a social worker and settles into small-town life. Yet this idyll is inescapably darkened by the secrets of his past: the acts he committed and the work he left unfinished. Most of all, he is haunted by the beloved friend he left behind, the charismatic leader who first guided him to revolution and then sacrificed everything to ensure his freedom. Elegiac, blazing with insights about the physical and emotional geographies that circumscribe our lives, All Our Names is a marvel of vision and tonal command. Writing within the grand tradition of Naipul, Greene, and Achebe, Mengestu gives us a political novel that is also a transfixing portrait of love and grace, of self-determination and the names we are given and the names we earn.--Publisher's description.… (more)

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