The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears

The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears

Book - 2006
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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.
Publisher: New York : Riverhead Books, 2006.
ISBN: 9781594482854
Characteristics: 228 p. ;,22 cm.


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Jul 19, 2019

I loved this book, though I could have done without the prostitutes and lap-dancing. It is a true description of how a traumatic past can hold us immobile with no sense of personal efficacy. It is a true description of how gentrification feels to those whose worlds are threatened - our lives may not be ideal but they are ours and they are familiar.

FW_librarian Dec 26, 2015

In the 1980s, there was a noticeable increase of Korean immigrants into predominantly white and African-American neighborhoods in the Puget Sound area. In our neighborhood, one of the first small business to be leased by an immigrant was the local gas station-market. The feel of our community changed and not without apprehension and cultural tension that was exhibited, if not physically, verbally. This book forced me to recall that unpleasant period - it's a story that delves into the heart of an immigrant who wants to integrate but feels his limits whether imposed by the community or by himself.

Jun 11, 2013

Interesting because of my interest in the immgrant story, but overall lacked direction. I kept waiting for the exact plot to emerge.

Jun 26, 2011

This fictional account of the African diaspora existence in the United States sparkled, from time to time, with an unusually vivid description, or an engaging sequence of dialogue. But the sparkles were few and far between.

The content is like a series of human interest clippings from the Washington Post newspaper that have been assembled on post-it notes into a manuscript. Two-thirds of the way through this tale of misery, the main character Sepha Stephanos asks himself: “Where is the grand narrative of my life? … It seems to have run out … It’s harder to admit that perhaps it had never been there at all.” (p. 147) The answer is that there is no plot in this book.

How could Stephanos frequently go drinking with his African friends and availing himself of the prostitutes in his neighbourhood when he operated his corner store so indifferently that his sales were insufficient to pay the rent and other bills? Is The Brothers Karamazov credible reading material for an eleven year old child? The five characters in this story have terrific potential … but the author has failed to develop them. It’s all rather pathetic.

Nov 12, 2010

This book will break your heart. The writing is subtle and true.

Feb 08, 2008 top 25 books of 2007.


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Feb 10, 2011

This is how it happened in Zaire," Joseph said. "One day we heard that some people were beaten up by guys with guns. The next day we had a rebel group walking through the neighborhood saying they had come to liberate us from the government. To prove their point they shot five people in the street who were responsible for our oppression."

"You must have been grateful," I said.

"Of course we were. We didn't even know that we were oppressed. Imagine our surprise and joy to find out that we had been. We gave the rebels all the money we had to thank them. I remember one man was so happy he even gave them his wife and daughter.

Feb 10, 2011

For those thirty minutes I had it all, and perhaps if I had been a wiser man I would have been content with just that.

Feb 10, 2011

I wanted to applaud Naomi for her foresight. Judith and I were both being conned, but neither of us particularly minded. To earn that kind of trust and affection from a child is to find out that you may have just been a better person than you believed all along.

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Jun 26, 2011

Liber_vermis thinks this title is suitable for 16 years and over

Feb 10, 2011


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