'The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears' by Dinaw Mengestu

Book Review

Beautiful Things book coverAuthor Dinaw Mengestu brings the dislocation and feelings of relative isolation of Sepha Stephanos, an Ethiopian immigrant, to life. The horrific circumstances of the protagonist's departure from his home country at a tender age are detailed, and his encounter with the established Washington, D.C. Ethiopian community is explored.

When Sepha chooses to live and work in the area around Logan Circle, his ambitions invite a lot of interest from his neighbors. Throughout the novel, we are left hoping against hope that the hopelessness we initially sense changes through a romance, or maybe through a healthy reading relationship with a new teen neighbor, but obstacles abound.

Mengestu crafts his magical prose around some simple yet illuminating themes: friendship, neighbor characterization, a dramatic reference to deceased kin, and Logan Circle gentrification that meets head-on with arson. The novel becomes a journey into the mind and heart of a young businessman rapidly falling in love with an academic. When finally, and predictably, any hope of a satisfying consummation to that love disappears, we are left appreciating the immigrant experience much more deeply.