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How to Read the Air by Dinaw Mengestu

How to Read the Air (2010)

by Dinaw Mengestu

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3853939,930 (3.48)85
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English (38)  Dutch (1)  All languages (39)
Showing 1-5 of 38 (next | show all)
Beautifully written yet unconvincing. We never deeply understand the motivations of the four main characters. Lot's of poetic writing but very little true emotion. The New Yorker short story extracted from the book (in the 20 under 40 series) was strangely powerful. The same story, diffused here through several chapters, seems empty and almost fake. The same can be said for the book as a whole, Nonetheless Mengetsu is a highly talented writer and no doubt better things will come. ( )
  aront | Jul 25, 2017 |
The story of Jonas, the son of Ethiopian immigrants to the Midwest, is told in several threads, his marriage, his relationship with his parents, and his parents life in the Midwest. Mengetsu’s approach to telling this story is original and interesting. ( )
  brangwinn | Jul 7, 2016 |
I don't usually require a lot of action in a novel for me to enjoy it, but this book was far too slow. Nothing happened. I was bored the entire time. The writing was overly introspective. Every action each character takes is followed by a long explanation of why they are taking that action. Despite all all the descriptions, I rarely understood or empathized with any of the characters. ( )
  klburnside | Aug 11, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
"But then I thought that was the problem all along, that before a family secret or past can be revealed there has to be a family to begin with, and what we were was something closer to a jazz trio than a family - performance group that got together every now and then to play a few familiar notes before dispersing back to their real, private lives." Jonah and his parents were never close, could never tell their true stories to each other and this carries over to his marriage, to his relationship to his students, to the stories he tells the students - but is that a result of their immigrant status. I think not. Its too common.
  catarina1 | Jul 11, 2014 |
This is an excellent psychological study of a man in his attempt to comprehend himself and find his own identity. The plot shifts from his parent's to his marriage's story, reminiscent of the way the past inserts itself into the present. Occasionally it seems a little slow but overall, very enjoyable and interesting. ( )
  snash | May 27, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 38 (next | show all)
"How to Read the Air," the melancholy second novel from critically acclaimed writer Dinaw Mengestu, follows the constant evolution of identity: Its discovery, its unraveling, its reinvention. His characters sag beneath the weight of alienation, of continual adaptation so far from all they know. Through Jonas and his wife, Angela, Mengestu reflects the emptiness inherited by the next generation.

Jonas is equal parts liar and elegant storyteller, a survival skill acquired from his mother which he relies upon to cope with his stagnant marriage and career. The death of his father spurs him to retrace the geography and events that brought his parents together and ultimately drove them apart. Undaunted by missing facts within the narrative, he fills in the blanks with imagined scenarios, finding comfort in this freedom to add context and motive, to lend his battered mother strength and choices, even if it is only make-believe.
added by kidzdoc | editSeattle Times, Karen Gaudette (Oct 16, 2010)
Admittedly, “How to Read the Air” feels weaker than “The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears.” Mengestu’s first novel was a pithy portrayal of immensely different worlds colliding. His second is like a baggy reprise. Jonas’s interiority both illuminates and fatigues; variations on his emotional injuries are rendered too often, becoming clichés of Mengestu’s careful initial depictions. At times Mengestu doesn’t seem to trust his reader to get his point, while the momentum of poetic prose, of a well-turned phrase or astute observation, often continues two clicks too long, detracting from the narrative’s velocity.
added by kidzdoc | editNew York Times, Miguel Syjuco (Oct 10, 2010)
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Weet je het nóg niet? Werp de leegte uit je armen
de ruimte in die wij ademen - misschien dat de vogels
de verruimde lucht voelen met inniger vlucht.
- Rainer Maria Rilke, De elegieën van Duino
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Voor Anne-Emanuelle
pour toutes les belles choses
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Het was zevenhonderdvierenzeventig kilometer van het huis van mijn ouders in Peoria, Illinois, naar Nashville, Tennessee, een afstand die in een zeven jaar oude rode Monte Carlo die ongeveer negentig kilometer per uur reed in acht tot twaalf uur kon worden afgelegd, afhankelijk van bepaalde variabelen, zoals het aantal borden langs de weg dat uitstapjes aanbood naar historische bezienswaardigheden en hoe vaak Mariam, mijn moeder, naar het toilet zou moeten.
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Leaving behind his marriage and job in New York, Jonas, the son of Ethiopian immigrants, sets out to retrace his mother and father's trip and weave together a family history that will take him from the war-torn Ethiopia of his parents' youth to his life in the America of today.… (more)

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