The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears Dinaw Mengestu

Ah. Where to start, that is the question with this book.

Sepha Stephanos is a poor immigrant from Ethiopia who fled the country after a close and brutal encounter with the Ethiopian government.  He's taken up residence in a poor part of Washington D.C. where he run a small convenience store.  The neighborhood he lives in has begun gentrification.  The house next door is being refurbished by Judith, a woman with a biracial child, Naomi.   And so you have the set-up for a love story, an immigrant's story, the story of friendship, family, and being alone.

The novel is quiet, understated, lovely.  The structure is such that the end is broadcast well before you get there so there is no uneasy expectation and possible disappointment.  All of this works to the point that what is written here is not a romance but the story of one set of trials that a person faces in coming to terms with his new life. 

I did not read closely enough, I will admit right up front, to understand the parallels between the book we are reading and the book that Sepha and Naomi read in his shop (The Brothers Karamazov), though it is evident by the nature of the three friends that such a parallel is intended to be drawn.  And the title of the novel is drawn from Dante and refers to the moments when Dante is about to leave Hell.

I'll belabor your patience no more with my maunderings.  Rather a recommendation for a gentle story in a brutal environment with both passion and pathos in muted colors, but powerful nevertheless.  The prose is lovely and the relationship between Sepha and Naomi both beautiful and heart-rending.

Highly Recommended-- ****

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