Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears; Dinaw Mengestu


Title: The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears
Author: Dinaw Mengestu
Publication Year: 2007
Publisher: Recorded Books
Edition: Audiobook 
Reader: Dion Graham (excellent)
Source: Library
Date Completed: 2/2/2011
Setting:Washington, DC and Ethiopia
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Recommend: Yes 

In The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, Sepha Stephanos, the story's narrator and protagonist, is an Ethiopian Immigrant, who fled his native country seventeen years earlier during the Revolution. After he had witnessed his father being beat to death by soldiers, he came to America seeking a better life. He moved to an African American section of Washington, DC, and initially, worked long hours doing heavy labor as a bellman. Wanting more for himself, he borrowed money to buy a convenience store in a run-down section of DC called Logan Square. His only friends are two other immigrants like himself.  Kenneth is an Engineer, who has seemed to make it in America, and his other friend, Joseph is a waiter at a prestigious dining establishment in DC. The three ex-Pats from Africa meet for drinks and stories once a week.

With his store barely making it, and his days long, he is feeling alone and isolated. Sepha is finding it harder and harder to get up and go to his store each morning, even though it is very close to where he lives. Business is bad, his customers are often prostitutes who come in for a candy bar or a can of soda. To pass the time while working in his store, he spends his time reading the 4-5 books he gets from the library each week.  Soon things in the neighborhood begin to change through  revitalization projects. Next door to his store, Judith McMasterson, a white history professor, buys the 4-story, run down mansion, and begins a restoration project. Judith and her 11-year old biracial daughter, Naomi begin to bring some joy into Sepha's life.  The 3 of them meet for tea and conversation, and, Stepha who has a passion for books begins to share that love of literature with Naomi, by reading his books to her each day after school in his store. Naomi's favorite is The Brother's Karamazov, because she knows that it will take a long time to finish, and she enjoys spending time talking to Sepha.  Naomi becomes a surrogate daughter of sorts to him, and for the first time since he has been in America he gets to feel what having a family might be like. When racial violence strikes the neighborhood,  he risks losing his new found happiness.

The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears is a poignant and haunting debut novel, that tells a story of what it is like to be an immigrant in a strange country. It beautifully portrays the loneliness and isolation, that I am sure many in this situation experience. Sad at times, hopeful at other times, it is a story that was beautifully written and a story that will not be easily forgotten.  As I am sure some of you realize, the title: The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears comes from a passage in Dante’s Inferno, that  Sepha's friend Joseph believes to be “the most perfect lines of poetry ever written”.  

The audio book was narrated by Dion Graham, who did an excellent job. Recommended.

7 comments:

  1. I wanted to share an email the author sent me, when my comments for this post were disabled.....

    Hello Bibliophilebythesea

    I just wanted to say thank you, twice, for the kind words you've said about both my novels, and for taking the time to review them so thoroughly. It's wonderful to be reminded that there are readers like yourself out there.


    All my best
    Dinaw Mengestu

    ReplyDelete
  2. These are some comments I wanted to share about THE BEAUTIFUL THINGS THAT HEAVEN BEARS. They were originally published using Intense Debate:


    nomadreader commented on The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears; Dinaw Mengestu - http://bibliophilebythesea.blogspot.com/:

    I already wanted to read Dinaw Mengetsu's work, but you raving about two of his books is making me re-prioritize my reading schedule. I"m really looking forward to experiencing this author!

    chrissy commented on The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears; Dinaw Mengestu - http://bibliophilebythesea.blogspot.com/:

    Sad, but uplifting at the same time.. I put this on my endless list.

    Mystica commented on The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears; Dinaw Mengestu - http://bibliophilebythesea.blogspot.com/:

    Immigrant stories always move me. They are generally very emotional and emphasise the need to survive and get on and not take things for granted. Thanks for this review.

    zibilee commented on The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears; Dinaw Mengestu - http://bibliophilebythesea.blogspot.com/:

    Very beautiful review! I have not heard a lot about this book, but it sounds like one that I would like to check out. I love a good haunting and poignant read, and your summary really hooked me in. Thanks!

    vivienne commented on The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears; Dinaw Mengestu - http://bibliophilebythesea.blogspot.com/:

    This sounds beautiful. I was a bit worried it would be really sad at the end, from the way it began, so relieved to realise it wasn't. I could just picture Stepha and his library books.

    Mary commented on The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears; Dinaw Mengestu - http://bibliophilebythesea.blogspot.com/:

    Nice review, Diane. I'm adding this title to my audiobook list. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

    ReplyDelete
  3. These are some more comments I wanted to share about THE BEAUTIFUL THINGS THAT HEAVEN BEARS. They were originally published using Intense Debate:

    Staci commented on The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears; Dinaw Mengestu - http://bibliophilebythesea.blogspot.com/:

    I loved this review and it makes me think I need to read his book that I have!

    Baley Petersen commented on The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears; Dinaw Mengestu - http://bibliophilebythesea.blogspot.com/:

    Wow! Sounds wonderful. What a great review. I hope I can find this in print (I'm not much for audiobooks). Thanks for sharing!

    Suko commented on The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears; Dinaw Mengestu - http://bibliophilebythesea.blogspot.com/:

    I'm glad you enjoyed this audio book*, Diane. Wonderful review!

    I need to listen to a book soon for the audio book challenge. :)

    *not sure if audio book is one word or two; I've seen it both ways

    IntenseDebate Notifications to me
    show details 12:20 PM (20 hours ago)

    bermudaonion commented on The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears; Dinaw Mengestu - http://bibliophilebythesea.blogspot.com/:

    I love a good immigrant story and this one sounds fabulous.

    Caitlin commented on The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears; Dinaw Mengestu - http://bibliophilebythesea.blogspot.com/:

    It's funny that you read and reviewed this. Some kind of weird synchronicity because a co-worker loaned it to me a couple of weeks ago and it's shining up at me wanting me to read it. I'm glad you liked it - that means I probably will, too. Thanks for the review.

    Darlene commented on The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears; Dinaw Mengestu - http://bibliophilebythesea.blogspot.com/:

    Great review. This really sounds like one I would like.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Ah, he wrote you! How wonderful. I loved this book. Read with a book group several years ago and I thought it was a beautiful story about the immigrant experience. I think a lot of times people forget that even though some aspects of the person's life may have improved, better economic situation, more freedom, etc. when they move to another country there are still many things that immigrants long for... their families, their culture, etc. This book I think showed that. Great review Diane!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Wonderful review Diane...I have put this on that infamous TBR pile...It sounds somewhat similar to a memoir I read last year penned by a young man who escaped from war-torn Congo to the United States..
    Thanks for highlighting this one :)

    ReplyDelete
  6. This sounds like a really fantastic book. I definitely am adding it to my wish list.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I am really hoping to read How to Read the Air, but I didn't know there was another book by this author. I'll be looking forward to this one. Great review!

    ReplyDelete

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