- Fizzy Thoughts: The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears

The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

beautiful things
The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears
Dinaw Mengestu
2007
228 pages

Publisher Comments:

Seventeen years ago, Sepha Stephanos fled the Ethiopian Revolution after witnessing soldiers beat his father to the point of certain death, selling off his parents' jewelry to pay for passage to the United States. Now he finds himself running a grocery store in a poor African-American neighborhood in Washington, D.C. His only companions are two fellow African immigrants who share his feelings of frustration with and bitter nostalgia for their home continent. He realizes that his life has turned out completely different and far more isolated from the one he had imagined for himself years ago.

Soon Sepha's neighborhood begins to change. Hope comes in the form of new neighbors— Judith and Naomi, a white woman and her biracial daughter — who become his friends and remind him of what having a family is like for the first time in years. But when the neighborhood's newfound calm is disturbed by a series of racial incidents, Sepha may lose everything all over again.

Told in a haunting and powerful first-person narration that casts the streets of Washington, D.C., and Addis Ababa through Sepha's eyes, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears is a deeply affecting and unforgettable debut novel about what it means to lose a family and a country — and what it takes to create a new home.

If you read all of the critics’ comments, this sounds like a (haunting, lyrical or other adjective of your choice) novel.  Unfortunately, it fell a bit flat for me…both he writing and the story.  But then, I had just finished The Angel’s Game, and that’s a tough act to follow.

Also, I disagree with the publisher’s comment “But when the neighborhood's newfound calm is disturbed by a series of racial incidents, Sepha may lose everything all over again.”  Gentrification is changing the neighborhood and pushing out people who have lived in the poor neighborhood for years.  And yes, you could argue that it ends up being the whites pushing out the blacks, but the novel doesn’t present like that.  It’s more about the haves v. the have-nots.

The novel also jumps back and forth to tell the story of Judith’s arrival in the neighborhood, her growing relationship with Stephanos, and her departure.  While not too bad, it is a bit jarring at times to try and figure out where the narrator has taken us.  And the end certainly came as no surprise.

I guess I wasn’t in the mood for subtle.  I was expecting more of an immigrant tale, while I got a novel about the meaning of hope and community and home.

8 comment(s):

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Oh, I'm so disappointed! How too bad that this book falls flat. When I lived in D.C. I used to love to walk over to the Ethiopian section (okay, there was a Ben & Jerry's there) but I bet there's a great book out there somewhere waiting to be written!

Jaime said...

I felt *exactly* the same way about this book. Like the back cover was written for an entirely different book, because it really was more about class than race. I also couldn't get passionate about Sepha because he couldn't get passionate about anything.

bermudaonion said...

If both you and Jaime were let down by this one, I think I'll skip it. Sometimes subtle works for me and sometimes it doesn't.

Beth F said...

I hate being disappointed like this. Bummer.

Louise said...

Your not-so-glowing words aside, I knew this wasn't a book for me when I read the first few lines of your review. The plot simply sounds uninteresting in my ears ;o) But it was interesting to read your review still.

Amy said...

too bad it was a disappointment, though that's not the first time I've heard that about this book. I love the title.

Charley said...

I like the title. I haven't read anything by Zafon, but I added The Angel's Game to my list this morning.

Ti said...

Maybe it was a bit of a timing issue. Anything after Zafon would probably be a little bit of a let down.

In a real sense, people who have read good literature have lived more than people who cannot or will not read. It is not true that we have only one life to live; if we can read, we can live as many more lives and as many kinds of lives as we wish. ~S.I. Hayakawa

The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.
~St. Augustine

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.
~Mark Twain

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