The beautiful things that heaven bears

by Dinaw Mengestu

Hardcover, 2007

Status

Available

Publication

New York : Riverhead Books, 2007.

Description

Fiction. Literature. HTML: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. Watch a QuickTime interview with Dinaw Mengestu about this book..… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member richardderus
How wonderful it is to find a first novel that feels so accomplished and tells such an engrossing story. I can't imagine that real, enjoyable talent is becoming rarer in a world that contains such eloquent proofs of its health.

Mengestu tells the story of three friends, African immigrants all, who
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meet in Washington DC, for so long the home territory of nativist sentiment in our republic of exclusion. I don't think a recap of the plot will help anyone decide whether or not to buy the book, because its outlines are simple: Men seeking material success in the motherland of same are thwarted and, through effort and good fortune, succeed at things they weren't looking to succeed at...temporarily.

A fire plays a major role in completing the story, and since I am currently seeing a fireman, that caught my eye. It's not, to my surprise, used as a pat plot device, but imbued with a real sense of the inevitability of sadness, loss, and change in the entwined lives of three lovely characters. Naomi, to name but one, is a heartbreakingly well observed actor in the piece despite her tender years, and Judith her mother is such a deftly drawn, conflicted, real person that I was tempted to look her up in the phone book; as for Sepha, he can come stay with me until things get better. That's the kind of connection Mengestu's characters call forth in me, and I hope in you too.

Bravo, Dinaw Mengestu. Thanks. Write...well, publish...more soon, please. Recommended for all readers of fiction.
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LibraryThing member catarina1
When I was notified that I am to receive his second book thru Early Reviewers, I decided that I had better finish the first one. Had started it about a year ago but just got stuck.

Its a story about an immigrant from Ethiopia who has been living in Wash, DC for 17 yrs, now has a small, not very
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profitable store in a rundown neighborhood. He has a couple of friends who are also from Africa, one is quite successful, Ken "from Kenya".

And so the story goes, and this is why I got stuck - it was quite similar to other stories, we don't learn much more. Not that the plight of immigrants is not worthy, but I want to learn more about the character - just who is Sepha Stephanos.

But then, about half-way (not the "50 pages") we finally start to learn about his life in Ethiopia, why he is here in DC. There are some lyrical passages. And some images that will stick with me. It's not as good as What Is The What, but is a worthwhile read. And I'm looking forward to the next one.
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LibraryThing member getupkid10
An amazing book written by a young Ethiopian American. The story follows Sepha Stephanos, an Ethiopian who fled the red terror after he watched his father dragged out of his home in Addis. Twenty years since his arrival, Sepha, a grocery store owner in a neighborhood in DC where prostitutes are
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often his best customers, is still trying to find the "American Dream". Soon, however, the neighborhood is gentrified, and he befriends a white woman and her daughter. This connection has Sepha longing for friendship, love and family. This first novel is a great, often funny, often sad book about finding your place in a world you have never felt at home in.
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LibraryThing member dczapka
Mengestu's 2007 debut novel is an intriguing if polarizing tapestry, a work that is subtle and reveals its layers patiently but, despite its great beauty, seems at times to not have much of a story to tell.

The novel revolves around the tribulations of an Ethiopian immigrant named Sepha who lives
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and owns a small mini-mart in the Logan Circle neighborhood of Washington, DC. He and his fellow immigrant friends lament their lack of opportunities and the tortured histories that brought each to America. When a white woman named Judith moves into the largely black neighborhood, she not only triggers unrest amongst the locals but promises to change Sepha's life for the better.

Mengestu's style is simple but intoxicating, his spare sentences making for great readability and his command of the novel's alternating temporality betraying an unusually high level of skill. What is perhaps most frustrating about the novel's pacing, then, is that not much happens during its course: to read the trade paperback's blurb on the back is to give away events that occur very near the climax of the book, events that are far less exciting as plot devices than the blurb would make it seem. This, have no doubt, is a novel of moods.

What makes the work seem most plausible, however, is the transitory nature of the main characters. Sepha, Joseph, and Kenneth each have their own reasons for coming to America, and each has reached varying levels of success, and though we only get deep glimpses into Sepha's story, his history adds a humanity to him that might have been lost if Mengestu would have simply cast him as the typical immigrant store-owner. I did not find the payoff nearly as satisfying as the rising action, but if you're not expecting a radical denouement, the read is surprisingly exciting and moving.

The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears may not be, at least in my mind, the rookie masterpiece that many critics have claimed it to be, it is nonetheless an impressive and evocative effort that has interesting things to suggest about exile and American life. And it declares that Mengestu is a strong, confident voice that will be worth watching for in the future.
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LibraryThing member nmele
A moving novel about Ethopian exiles living in Washington, DC, this novel vividly recalled for me the sights, sounds, and people of Washington, DC, and encounters I had with refugees while living and working there. A beautiful book.
LibraryThing member whitewavedarling
This was a fast read, but I have to say that, in the end, I felt it was overrated. There's no doubt that it's an ambitous work, but I think it attempted too much. The characters, when really considered, alternate between being unbelievable and being simply unsympathetic. Those character flaws,
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combined with a wondering plot and a non-existent ending (for me, at least), made it a work that I can't recommend.
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LibraryThing member goldiebear
I really thought I was going to enjoy this book. I am usually very interested in immigrant experience type stuff and anything to do with Washington, DC. I made it about 3/4 of the way through the book before I gave up. I got to that point where you are just reading the pages, but not really reading
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the pages, you know? It started off really well, but got really choppy as things went along. The character development I thought was pretty poor, which is disappointing because the characters had real potential I thought. I got bored. I didn't care about the characters. The main character I thought was a bit of a wimp. His friends had potential, but I felt like they never went anywhere. I thought this book was a bit disappointing. I did however enjoy his depiction of Washington, DC. I thought it was true and accurate for the most part.
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LibraryThing member goneal
Observations of an Ethiopian immigrant local store owner of the evolution of cultural change in a low income DC neighborhood.
LibraryThing member theageofsilt
This first-person narrative tells of Sepha Stephanos who has been sent from the political turmoil of Ethiopia by his mother to find sanctuary in the U.S. He is a reluctant immigrant - unwilling, emotionally, to embrace a new start. He play acts the immigrant's dream of getting an education and
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starting a new business. I found the book a fresh view of immigration. Many immigrants would rather have just stayed home and the energy and optimism we associate with those who have come to pursue the American dream is absent. The depressive and bleak tone of the novel eventually lifts and we are left with a sense that Stephanos will learn to become a part of his new home.
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LibraryThing member Tinwara
This book came across my way by chance, when I was just lingering around in a big bookstore. I'd never heard of it, or its author, but was attracted by the exotic name of the writer, took it from the shelf, started reading in it a little and just couldn't stop.

The book tells the tale of Sepha, who
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came to the USA as a teenager. He is a refugee from Ethiopia, who however quickly left the Ethiopian refugee community and abandoned the grand American dream of making a great fortune. Instead, he started a small grocery store in a "historic turned bad" neighbourhood in Washington DC. He enjoys reading great literature in his little corner shop, discussing the state of the world, especially of the African continent, with his two African friends, Kenneth and Joe, and otherwise leads a quiet life, perhaps a bit lonely.

Then the neighbourhood starts to change. White people with more money begin to move in, joggers are suddenly seen in the streets, the statue at the central circle of the neighbourhood gets repaired. As the historic neighbourhood is being renovated, rents go up, and longtime residents are being forced out. Sepha doesn't take sides in this conflict. Partly because he is not that kind of person, observing more than being an activist. But also because he has befriended his new neighbours, Judith and her daughter Naomi, who comes into the store to read Dostoyevsky with him.

The back cover of my edition speaks of a change in Sepha's life, because of this friendship. However, I don't feel it changes him so much. It makes him reconsider who he is, and why he made the choices he made in his life. Despite the open ending, I don't think that Sepha is going to change much. He is just not that kind of person.

I thought this was a good novel, giving insight into a migrant's (or: refugee's) life, into the process of gentrification, and into life in a Washington DC neighbourhood. Even though I have never visited this city in my life, the descriptions were so detailed, especially in the part where Sepha leaves his shop and goes for what ends up to be a big hike, that I felt I was walking there myself. I even looked up some of the places at the Internet! It just made me want to go there. What I also liked about this novel was the way the story of Sepha didn't get too sentimental, even though he had a dramatic history and seemed to be a lonely person.
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LibraryThing member brsquilt
About Ethiopian man in Washington D.C. who owns a small grocery store - his struggles, his friends, his neighbors. Nicely written, gentle, enjoyable read.
LibraryThing member stonelaura
It has been seventeen years since Sepha Stephanos, the narrator of this beautiful debut novel, fled the violence of Ethiopia for the lackluster existence he now leads in Washington, D.C. Moving from hotel valet to shop owner has been the culmination of Sepha’ goal to lead a quiet life where he
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does no harm, but this is not a dream fulfilled. Sepha is, in fact, living a life in limbo – not committed to a life of progress in America, but no longer part of his family and heritage in Africa. Perhaps he is still plagued with guilt over the arrest of his father back in Addis after some political flyers of Sepha’s were found in the house. Or is it fear of failure that inhibits his actions? There are many questions such as these to discuss in the thoughtful book, but it can also be read simply for the beautiful turn of phrase and the astute observations about human nature. As Sepha’s run-down Logan Circle neighborhood begins a turn toward gentrification it has emotional consequences both for the community at large and for Sepha personally as he becomes involved in the lives of white newcomer Judith and her biracial daughter Naomi. Author Mengestu left Ethiopia with his family before he turned three, so while the story is not based precisely on his own personal experiences, the book is a blend of fiction and fact. One of Mengetu’s uncles was a lawyer in Addis and was arrested during the Red Terror campaign, and another uncle fled Ethiopia for Sudan. The author accumulated facts and impressions over many years and has brewed them together to create a moving and thoughtful story of displacement and acceptance.
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LibraryThing member miyurose
“The beautiful things that heaven bears” is a line from a passage in Dante’s Inferno, in which Dante is emerging from hell. According to one of the characters in the book, “no one can understand that line like an African because that is what we lived through. Hell every day with only
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glimpses of heaven in between.” The passage is definitely a metaphor for Sepha’s story, whose existence seems to be just one long, endless trudge through life. I enjoy books like this that give me a glimpse of life in a different culture than my own, but I think that in some ways this book is a little too subtle. For example, when the “series of racial incidents disturbs the community”, I wouldn’t have known they were racial incidents if the back of the book hadn’t said so. They could just as easily been class-based as race-based. Also, the pacing of the story was difficult for me to follow. The story jumps back and forth in time, and once in a while I would lose track of where I was in the timeline. I think I would have enjoyed learning more about the culture than just about Sepha. Overall, this was a well-written novel, but it left me wanting more — or maybe, just something different.
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LibraryThing member eejjennings
Despite not really liking the main characters who were understandably depressed and discouraged with their lot in the US, this book has much to be liked. The author's use of quotes from Danta and deToqueville added meaning and offered some hope for these immigrants that they might one day find
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success and happiness.
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LibraryThing member thornton37814
This is the story of an Ethiopian who immigrated to Washington, D.C. The author shows Sepha's struggle to "find himself." The book's title came from a line from Dante's Inferno, which is quoted in the book. Sepha is one of those characters with whom most of us will not completely identify although
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we can certainly appreciate his love for literature and the struggles he faces that are often somewhat of his own making, partially (although not completely) because of cultural differences. This is a very good "first novel" although it's not a masterpiece.
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LibraryThing member debnance
Sepha Stephanos left Ethiopia after his father’s death at the hands of Ethiopian revolutionaries for a new life in America. Sepha opens a store and manages to pass days and then years selling small grocery items to the poor residents of the neighborhood. But his life feels meaningless and
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inconsequential; he never bonds with his neighbors or his new country. The only connections he makes for many years are with two fellow African immigrants. His happiest hours are spent talking with them about the disappointments their new country has given them. Finally Sepha befriends a little girl and her mother, new residents of the neighborhood. Perhaps Sepha will use the inspiration these two bring to reenergize his hopes and dreams.
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LibraryThing member kirstiecat
I really think this is an important novel for people in America who may not understand race relations, African coup and genocides, and an immigrant's perspective. The novel really deals with a sense of humanity in terms of an African immigrant who escapes brutality to start over in America and his
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two friends who continually recall the history of each revolution in each African country. It seems like every single country is wracked with a sense of political revolutions and violence.

In America, this violence is more subtle and takes place over a larger expanse of time. It's the violence that comes with re-gentrification and opportunity for profit. We all know the story-it's the story of Cabrini Green in Chicago, for example, and happens in many neighborhoods throughout probably every major city in America and beyond. A neighborhood is affordable to live in and, even if there is crime, there is often a sense of community and similar background. There is also a similar economics at play. So when people with money start to invest in housing in the place, suddenly the cost of housing for the people who have lived their all of their lives rises drastically. Those people are usually evicted and have to move to another location. Meanwhile, those buildings, often tenements, are razed and condos and townhomes that are much more $$$ are erected. I think this often happens because, in a housing boom, people buy into the idea of owning property but often people even in the middle-upper middle class bracket have difficulty buying the housing they want in the neighborhood they want..so they move to neighborhoods where housing is cheaper, which causes those neighborhoods to change in a way that excludes and discriminates against it's long term residents.

I don't think there's an easy answer to this dilemma and often I think it's something that results from local city government policy that perceives the existing citizens as trouble and instead of offering them support, the local government decides to try to push these people to different counties and cities to avoid dealing with the issues of poverty and crime altogether. The mayor and governors see these residents as a loss in terms of tax dollars and a financial strain, not the human factor at all.

But the novel also really shows the possibilities of unusual friendship,a kinship with oddly the great Dostoevsky, and a sense of what an African immigrant's life might be like here in all its assorted new perils and issues. My main issue with it is that it was waaay too short. These ideas and issues are too complex for a mere 228 pages to be fully explored. The novel would be much more realized at 500-600 pages imo.


Favorite quotes:

pg 38: "They had names like Chocolate and Velvet, always things that you could touch and taste because the imagination is nothing if not tactile."

pg 130: "I've never felt a disappointment so close to hatred again."

pg 162-163: "There was a unique fear that came with feeling that it was the inanimate objects around you that frightened you most."

pg. 169: "To what we hope is nothing short of a permanent dawn."

pg. 221: "Our weapons are not accidents. They're a part of who we are."
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LibraryThing member goddesspt2
Ethiopian immigrant, Sepha Stephanos, who fled his country 17 years ago, is the owner of a barely profitable store in a neighborhood of Washington, DC. The reader is also introduced to his friends, Kenneth from Kenya and Joseph from the Congo. Other main characters, are Judith, a white woman, and
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her mixed race daughter, Naomi. Judith, who is renovating a 4-story home, represents the first wave of impending gentrification. The book’s title comes from a line in Dante’s Inferno, that Joseph believes to be “the most perfect lines of poetry ever written.”

Some of the beautiful things that Heaven bears, Where we came forth, and once more saw the stars — Dante’s Inferno

One of things I liked about this book was it took place in the Logan Circle neighborhood of DC (with a side trip to Silver Spring, MD). I grew up and spent over 30 years in the area. While I found the passages between Naomi and Sepha moving as they bonded through their shared reading of The Brothers Karamazov, I felt that the attraction between Sepha and Naomi’s mother, Judith, to be forced and lacking chemistry. The story came alive for me as we find out the circumstances surrounding Sepha’s life and subsequent flight from Ethiopia. I enjoyed the interaction between Sepha and his friends as they meet in their favorite bar and play their game “name the African coups and dictators.” When the action briefly moves to Silver Spring, Mengestu helps us understand how newly arrived immigrants live.

The book was honored with as the New York Times Notable Book of the Year and the Guardian First Book Award.
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LibraryThing member dpf2102
The writing shows promise, though the attempts at witty banter between Stephanos (the narrator) and Judith made me cringe. Upon finishing the novel, I couldn't help but think that this would have made a much better short story or novella: the key messages about attempts at belonging and forming new
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identities (by both Stephanos and Judith) would have been much more powerful without the distracting tangents of monkey chauffeurs and Tylenol PM jokes.
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LibraryThing member chrystal
Book about an immigrant from Africa, makes few friends, is stiff and estranged from his "uncle" who also lives in the city. He reflects on tragic events in revolutionary Africa, has little contact with his family still there. Palpatable loneliness, he places much emotional hope in a girl and her
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mother who move into his blighted neighborhood and renovate a brownstone. The relationship doesn't work as he hopes, I don't think the woman has any idea of his feelings, and eventually they move away and he is left alone, with his failing store. The ending is somewhat hopeful; after meandering through the city trying to connect with the few people he knows, he goes back to the store to try again (or that is how I saw it) A quick read with insights to the immigrant experience in America . I think he experiences crushing disappointment about his life in America and what the country is really like, it isn't a fix to lifes problems. I liked this book, but I liked the inheritance of loss much better, this book wasn't as vivid.
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LibraryThing member FrancescaForrest
Gentle in tone and intimate in its focus, this is exactly the sort of book I was hoping it would be when I suggested it as a possibility for my book group. Sepha Stephanos, an Ethiopian immigrant to the United States, has just two friends, Kenneth (from Kenya) and Joseph (from Congo/Zaire), and
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spends his days alone reading in his rundown convenience store in a poor neighborhood in Washington, DC. The neighborhood is beginning to be gentrified, and Sepha is befriended by a white incomer, Judith (a professor of American history), and Judith's eleven-year-old biracial daughter Naomi. Sepha's story--the reason for his lonely solitude--unfolds through after-work conversations he has with Kenneth and Joseph, through his reading sessions with Naomi (they're working on The Brothers Karamazov, which Naomi picked at random for its heft), and somewhat awkward meals with Judith. All the characters are intensely likable and sympathetic, including those present only in Sepha's recollection, such as his gentle, storytelling father, who was a lawyer, or Sepha's uncle, who abandoned the magnificent house he had built when he realized revolution was coming, and who has sent letters to every US president, pleading on Ethiopia's behalf, since his arrival in the United States in the 1970s.

I couldn't stop marking passages down for their beauty and the way they moved me. At one point, Sepha leaves his shop in the middle of the day to follow a happy-seeming tourist couple who had dropped in to buy something. He looks back at his shop:

I can see it clearly from here, everything from the sagging right gutter to the streaks of blue paint along the side to the metal bars over the windows shining in the sun. How is it that in all these years, I've never seen my store look quite like this? I can imagine it wanting to be spared the burden of having to survive another year. The door is unlocked. The sign is flipped to "Open" and the cash register, with its contents totalling $3.28, is ajar. I wonder if this is what it feels like to walk out on your wife and children. If this is what it feels like to leave a car on the side of the highway and never come back for it. What is the proper equation, the perfect simile or metaphor? I'm an immigrant. I should know this. I've done it before.


Ahh, it just hit me in the chest, not in a gratuitous way, but in a true way. I--who am not an immigrant, who did not witness horrors visited on a loved one or lose family in a revolution, who do not live in a poor urban neighborhood, who share with him only a melancholic nature--identified with him viscerally and completely: it's down to the power of Mengestu's writing.

A matter-of fact sadness is at the core of the book, and yet it's never lugubrious or soppy or overwrought; there's plenty of understated humor: "It's nice to think there's a purpose, or even a real decision that turns everything [in one's life] in one direction," remarks Judith, "but that's not always true, is it? We just fall into our lives. How did you get to own a grocery store?" To which Sepha replies, "Some people are just lucky."

Sepha's time reading with Naomi is wonderful. About it, he thinks,

Every time I looked at her I became aware of just how seemingly perfect this time was. I thought about how years from now I would remember this with a crushing, heartbreaking nostalgia, because of course I knew even then that I would eventually find myself standing here alone. And just as that knowledge would threaten to destroy the scene, Naomi would do something small, like turn the page to early or shift in her chair, and I would be happy once again.


Isn't that the secret to the sadness and joy of life, right there? It hit me with the force of its truth.

When Sepha reads, he recalls his father's stories:

The stories he invented himself he told with particular delight. They all began the same way, with the same lighthearted tone, with a small wave of the hand, as if the world were being brushed to the side, which I suppose for him it actually was.

"Ah, that reminds me, Did I tell you about--
The shepherd who beat his sheep too hard
The farmer who was too lazy to plow his fields
The hyena who laughed himself to death
The lion who tried to steal the monkey's dinner
The monkey who tried to steal the lion's dinner?"


Yes, we meet the father this way, casually, through affectionate memories--which makes the crucial scene in the center of the book all the more devastating. Devastating, but not gratuitous, not unbearable.

Let me leave you with one more quote, from when the number of evictions in Sepha's neighborhood has started to rise. He walks by one of the homes:

It didn't matter where you lived, or where you came from, or how far you had traveled, somewhere near you someone was on the run.


Truth.

I loved the book. I loved the characters. I loved the insight. It won't be for everyone: it's very small scale, and it's melancholic--a little too much so for one member of my book group, but absolutely perfect for me. And as I say, there's humor here, and beauty, and love, and the pain is only the natural pain that comes from waking up and finding yourself doomed to be human.
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LibraryThing member FrancescaForrest
Gentle in tone and intimate in its focus, this is exactly the sort of book I was hoping it would be when I suggested it as a possibility for my book group. Sepha Stephanos, an Ethiopian immigrant to the United States, has just two friends, Kenneth (from Kenya) and Joseph (from Congo/Zaire), and
Show More
spends his days alone reading in his rundown convenience store in a poor neighborhood in Washington, DC. The neighborhood is beginning to be gentrified, and Sepha is befriended by a white incomer, Judith (a professor of American history), and Judith's eleven-year-old biracial daughter Naomi. Sepha's story--the reason for his lonely solitude--unfolds through after-work conversations he has with Kenneth and Joseph, through his reading sessions with Naomi (they're working on The Brothers Karamazov, which Naomi picked at random for its heft), and somewhat awkward meals with Judith. All the characters are intensely likable and sympathetic, including those present only in Sepha's recollection, such as his gentle, storytelling father, who was a lawyer, or Sepha's uncle, who abandoned the magnificent house he had built when he realized revolution was coming, and who has sent letters to every US president, pleading on Ethiopia's behalf, since his arrival in the United States in the 1970s.

I couldn't stop marking passages down for their beauty and the way they moved me. At one point, Sepha leaves his shop in the middle of the day to follow a happy-seeming tourist couple who had dropped in to buy something. He looks back at his shop:

I can see it clearly from here, everything from the sagging right gutter to the streaks of blue paint along the side to the metal bars over the windows shining in the sun. How is it that in all these years, I've never seen my store look quite like this? I can imagine it wanting to be spared the burden of having to survive another year. The door is unlocked. The sign is flipped to "Open" and the cash register, with its contents totalling $3.28, is ajar. I wonder if this is what it feels like to walk out on your wife and children. If this is what it feels like to leave a car on the side of the highway and never come back for it. What is the proper equation, the perfect simile or metaphor? I'm an immigrant. I should know this. I've done it before.


Ahh, it just hit me in the chest, not in a gratuitous way, but in a true way. I--who am not an immigrant, who did not witness horrors visited on a loved one or lose family in a revolution, who do not live in a poor urban neighborhood, who share with him only a melancholic nature--identified with him viscerally and completely: it's down to the power of Mengestu's writing.

A matter-of fact sadness is at the core of the book, and yet it's never lugubrious or soppy or overwrought; there's plenty of understated humor: "It's nice to think there's a purpose, or even a real decision that turns everything [in one's life] in one direction," remarks Judith, "but that's not always true, is it? We just fall into our lives. How did you get to own a grocery store?" To which Sepha replies, "Some people are just lucky."

Sepha's time reading with Naomi is wonderful. About it, he thinks,

Every time I looked at her I became aware of just how seemingly perfect this time was. I thought about how years from now I would remember this with a crushing, heartbreaking nostalgia, because of course I knew even then that I would eventually find myself standing here alone. And just as that knowledge would threaten to destroy the scene, Naomi would do something small, like turn the page to early or shift in her chair, and I would be happy once again.


Isn't that the secret to the sadness and joy of life, right there? It hit me with the force of its truth.

When Sepha reads, he recalls his father's stories:

The stories he invented himself he told with particular delight. They all began the same way, with the same lighthearted tone, with a small wave of the hand, as if the world were being brushed to the side, which I suppose for him it actually was.

"Ah, that reminds me, Did I tell you about--
The shepherd who beat his sheep too hard
The farmer who was too lazy to plow his fields
The hyena who laughed himself to death
The lion who tried to steal the monkey's dinner
The monkey who tried to steal the lion's dinner?"


Yes, we meet the father this way, casually, through affectionate memories--which makes the crucial scene in the center of the book all the more devastating. Devastating, but not gratuitous, not unbearable.

Let me leave you with one more quote, from when the number of evictions in Sepha's neighborhood has started to rise. He walks by one of the homes:

It didn't matter where you lived, or where you came from, or how far you had traveled, somewhere near you someone was on the run.


Truth.

I loved the book. I loved the characters. I loved the insight. It won't be for everyone: it's very small scale, and it's melancholic--a little too much so for one member of my book group, but absolutely perfect for me. And as I say, there's humor here, and beauty, and love, and the pain is only the natural pain that comes from waking up and finding yourself doomed to be human.
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LibraryThing member SqueakyChu
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,
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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 our 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!
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LibraryThing member viviennestrauss
My third book by Mengestu - while I really liked it, it didn't move me as much as his others.
LibraryThing member kraaivrouw
I collect corner stores. How can I do that? I mean, it's not like I can put them in my pocket and take them home to shut up in a curio cabinet. Thing is, I love corner stores. Wherever I live I find and visit corner stores. Usually I have a favorite that's in walking distance from my house and I am
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a loyal customer until I move. So far, Seattle and the Bay Area have had the best corner stores.

My favorite corner store in Seattle was open 24/7, sold cigarettes and basic food stuffs and had a soda fountain so you could buy a great big Dr. Pepper with tons of ice. The owners were Pakistani and always a source for great conversation. Eventually they added a case where they sold pizza by the slice and home made samosas. I miss going there since I left Seattle. My current corner store is owned by these really cool brothers from Syria. They put a lot of work into refreshing the store when they bought it, including installing a tile floor with an Arabic pattern in it that is stunning. They are also very nice and call me "beautiful lady."

The corner store that The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears reminds me of is another Seattle corner store. I went there sometimes when I lived in the Pike/Pine corridor right before I moved in with my husband in Lake City. It was very mysterious. Owned by Ethiopians, carried mostly Ethiopian food stuffs, dimly lighted and filled with smells of all kinds of spices.

It had an old-fashioned screen door (I love the sound of a screen door) and when you entered there was usually one man behind the counter and a group of three or four men at a table off to the side drinking coffee and I suspect talking politics, although I didn't understand their language. They were never friendly, but never unfriendly - just sort of neutral. They seemed isolated in their own little immigrant world and I never could find a way to penetrate that. I imagine Sepha's corner store like this one.

This is a beautiful subtle novel about an Ethiopian immigrant who comes to America all alone at 17 and years later finds himself the proprietor of a failing corner store in a gentrifying neighborhood. Sepha is lonely, but less so when he meets and befriends Judith and her multi-racial daughter, Naomi who renovate and move into one of the huge old houses down the street. Sepha develops a crush on Judith that seems to be reciprocated, but the biggest surprise is his relationship to Naomi, solidified over a copy of The Brothers Karamazov.

Mr. Mengetsu writes beautifully and captures and delivers moments that are so palpable you could touch them. His characters and sense of place are rich and deep. I said earlier this was a subtle book - by that I mean it isn't filled with big moments - rather it is stitched together out of the ordinary moments of our lives. There is despair here, loneliness, fear, and racism, but there is also wit, and joy. Highly recommended.
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