Writer to watch

Dinaw Mengestu's debut novel The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears marks the emergence of a vital new voice in what I will precariously call "immigrant fiction." Mengestu, a recent graduate of Columbia's MFA fiction program, writes prose that is at once urgent and reflective, beautifully and painfully exploring issues of migration, race, love, and the American Dream.

In the following passage, Sepha Stephanos, a shop-owner from Ethiopia, travels to visit his only relative in America--an uncle to whom he rarely speaks:

There are twenty-eight floors to the building, and of those twenty-eight floors, at least twenty-six are occupied exclusively by other Ethiopians who, like my uncle, moved here sometime after the revolution and found to their surprise that they would never leave. Within this building there is an entire world made up of old lives and relationships transported perfectly intact from Ethiopia...Living here is as close to living back home as one can get, which is precisely why I moved out after two years and precisely why my uncle has never left. Hardly a word of English is spoken inside of these doors. The hallways on every floor smell of wat, coffee and incense. The older women still travel from apartment to apartment dressed in slippers and white blankets that they keep wrapped around their heads, just as if they were still walking through the crowded streets of Addis. The children keep only the friendships sanctioned by their parents.

...Sometimes I think of my decision to leave this building as an escape, while at other times it seems more like an abandonment. I try not to take the thought too seriously, but when every eye you catch seems to hold an accusation or question behind it, a decision has to be made. Either I left to create a new life of my own, one free from the restraints and limits of culture, or I turned my back on everything I was and that had made me.


1 comment:

emily said...

I heard a podcast on this once, I can't now remember if it was any good...