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The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears

by Dinaw Mengestu

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1,0024615,258 (3.78)119
Seventeen years after fleeing the Ethiopian revolution, Sepha Stephanos runs a grocery store in a poor African-American neighborhood in Washington, D.C., where he reflects on his past and the differences between his prospects and the life he imagined.
  1. 00
    All Aunt Hagar's Children by Edward P. Jones (cransell)
    cransell: A different, also fictional, look at life in DC beyond the world of politics.

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Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
My third book by Mengestu - while I really liked it, it didn't move me as much as his others. ( )
  viviennestrauss | Mar 17, 2020 |
It was ok-ish. The middle got a little swampy.
  reg_lt | Feb 7, 2020 |
Two reasons why I chose to read this book: 1) It was Seattle Reads' 2008 pick, and 2) a good percentage of my ESL students are from Ethiopia like the main character of the book.

Negative reviews from other Goodreads folks claim that 'nothing happens' and that the characters aren't developed. I disagree. Sure, nobody dies or gets married or gets bitten by a vampire; there's neither a tragic ending nor a perfectly happy, resolved one. Plenty of things happen, however small to the reader, to Sepha. He hopes for the attention of a woman, he befriends her daughter, he revisits his guilt of leaving his family/country, he is in perpetual danger of losing his store.

It is a book of being in between, in transition. Between countries, homes. Between the bad years and the good years. Meeting people that you hope will stick around but they don't because they were only meant to be in your life for a short time.

The book is a glimpse into the experience of an Ethiopian immigrant and a glimpse into the life of an ordinary man who is still in search of his heaven. ( )
  alyssajp | Jul 29, 2019 |
I liked this story very, very much despite the fact that it felt deeply sad to me. It’s the story of Sepha Stephanos, an Ethiopian immigrant who now lives in a small apartment on Logan Circle in Washington D.C. and there runs a small convenience store. His new neighbor is Judith, a white woman, mother of Naomi, her biracial daughter. The mom moves into a newly restored house also on Logan Circle. A friendship of sorts develops between Sepha and Naomi because she loves to visit his store and read with him.

I found this author’s writing deeply moving and very sensitively written. I fell in love with its setting (warts and all, due to gentrification) because I really love living in the Washington, DC. area, and find it fun to read about places I know fairly well. In one part of the story, the author describes the feeling of powerlessness and sadness when a familiar old neighborhood undergoes sudden, drastic change due to needs of the more affluent members of the community. I empathize with his concerns.

While reading this book, I felt the need to learn more about Ethiopian immigrant communities in the United States. I discovered that the largest Ethiopian community in the United States is located in my own county within Maryland. I love when fiction has this impact on me! ( )
  SqueakyChu | Jan 24, 2019 |
I like Dinaw Mengistu’s writing style but this one was a bit pedantic and slow. 6 months after reading this one was pretty forgettable. ( )
  kate_r_s | Oct 29, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
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To Hirut and Tesfaye Mengetsu, for everything.
First words
At eight o'clock Joseph and Kenneth come into the store.
”And what about you?” I asked Judith. “What do you like?”
“I prefer simple and elegant.”
“I like small and cheap,” I said.
“That’s too bad,” Judith said. “It looks like you’ve gone and picked the wrong family.”
He lifts himself off the ground by bracing his back against the wall and climbing up with his entire body, inch by inch. His effort to stand on his own invites the mockery of the two young soldiers.
They looked nothing like the presents under Judith’s tree.  They looked as if they had been wrapped by a blind, one-armed man who had torn away at the wrapping paper and tape with his teeth.
That’s why I’m here in this country. No revolution. No coup.
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Seventeen years after fleeing the Ethiopian revolution, Sepha Stephanos runs a grocery store in a poor African-American neighborhood in Washington, D.C., where he reflects on his past and the differences between his prospects and the life he imagined.

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Book description
Barely suppressed despair and black wit infuse this beautifully observed debut from Ethiopian émigré 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
Haiku summary
I left Africa
But I'm going back. Or am
I?  Where's my best self?           [yalliejane]

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