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The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears

3.64  ·  Rating Details ·  5,193 Ratings  ·  875 Reviews

A literary debut hailed by The New York Times Book Review as "a great American novel."

Awards Include:
Finalist for the Young Lions Fiction Award Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction Winner of the Guardian First Book Prize
New York Times Notable Book Winner of the National Book Foundation's “5 Under 35” Award Recipient of a Lannan Literary Fellows

Audiobook, Unabridged MP3, 7 pages
Published May 14th 2009 by Recorded Books, LLC (first published 2007)
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Apr 20, 2008 Peter rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a magnificently simple book. Deceptively simple, like the Old Man and the Sea, in that you breeze through it and think "nice story" but when you pause for one moment and think about it, you realize that it is so much more than a nice story.

A blend of the political uncertainties and accompanying atrocities of the African continent with the ever present class struggles (overlaid by racial tension) of America. The parallels and similarities are clear but woven through the book in a way that
Paul Bryant
Big disappointment. This is all about an Ethiopian refugee who's now been in Washington DC for 17 years and runs a grocery store in a poor neighbourhood. Now the author must know whereof he speaks, but I could hardly believe the picture he painted. In 17 years, we are to understand that Sepha, our immigrant, has made precisely two friends. And these two friends have only made two friends - each other. And none of these three immigrant friends have got married or had any long term relationships. ...more
Jul 23, 2008 Emma rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears was the July selection for my book club, but I almost didn't read it because I knew I wouldn't be able to make the actual meeting. But, I decided to read it anyway and I'm glad I did.

My expectations going in may have shaped my feelings about the book. I knew that it was written by an Ethiopian immigrant and that it was about the Ethiopian immigrant experience in Washington, D.C. Before picking it up, I assumed it was a memoir. I thought it would be dense
wow--what a compact, melancholy little novel. written in overlapping layers as the narrator grapples with what has become of his life, it's almost like a snowglobe of sadness, isolation, regret, and loss. shake it, and you see fragments of Sepha's family life in Addis Ababa; shake it again, and you see fragments of his friendship with two other African immigrants, apparently his only close and sustained friendships in America; shake it yet again, you see him navigate with poignancy a new friends ...more
May 09, 2016 orsodimondo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: americana, etiopia
Sepha fugge dall’Etiopia dopo che i militari hanno ucciso suo padre; lascia la madre e il fratello più piccolo, e se li porta dietro ben serrati nella memoria.

Arriva in US, a Washington, si appoggia allo zio, anche lui espatriato, emigrante, profugo, esule, rifugiato, fuggitivo…

Dopo un po’ di tempo, arriva il momento in cui sente di doversi muovere con le sue forze, il momento per esplorare nuovi territori e nuov
Dec 18, 2010 Rashida rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: africa
It came down to two things for me: The narrator and the location. The narrator's voice is haunting and sweet. Tinged with sadness and hope, that at times made it difficult to bear. But it propelled me on, hoping to see this kind and pitiful man receive some happiness, some lasting beauty in his life. The other characters are mere set pieces (and perhaps I should deduct a star for that?) to generate reaction from our narrator, to give us some peek into his psyche. But those peeks are so well rewa ...more
Richard Derus
Jan 03, 2012 Richard Derus rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rating: 4.25* of five

How wonderful it is to find a first novel that feels so accomplished and tells such an engrossing story. I can't imagine that real, enjoyable talent is becoming rarer in a world that contains such eloquent proofs of its health.

Mengestu tells the story of three friends, African immigrants all, who meet in Washington DC, for so long the home territory of nativist sentiment in our republic of exclusion. I don't think a recap of the plot will help anyone decide whether or not to
Gary  the Bookworm
Jun 12, 2012 Gary the Bookworm rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Photobucket Pictures, Images and PhotosThis is an excellent book. On its surface it's about the immigrant experience, but it delves deeper and achieves a universality which is much more profound. Anyone who has ever experienced the dislocation of not belonging to a time or place can relate to this story. Despite socio-economic differences, these characters share a struggle to be part of something greater than themselves. This individual striving to belong assumes socio-political implications as the plot enfolds. Social unrest in a g ...more
Jan 31, 2012 Suzanne rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Truly a beautiful book! It's hard for me to imagine that this young, driven author was able to describe so well the aimlessness, the lack of drive and energy of Sepha. The novel is about Ethiopian immigrants, but it is really about anyone who is detatched and lost.
The setting is D. C., but it is really about any neighborhood which is in decline. The residents hate that the Circle is so poor and ugly and hate that its gentrification will dislocate them.
Sepha easily falls in love with ten year old
This novel, the first by Dinaw Mengestu, is set in Washington, DC, at the beginning of the 2000’s. It about African immigrants, one in particular, Sepha Stephanos, an Ethiopian refugee, and the changing city. Sepha runs a small corner grocery store, but after 17 years in the United States, he still hasn’t found his way. He fled his country at the age of 19 after his father was taken away from his home, and killed. His only family member in America, an “uncle” left behind a comfortable life in Et ...more
Sep 08, 2009 El rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 21st-centurylit
Seventeen years ago Sepha Stephanos fled Ethiopia during the revolution which called Sepha's father. Now Sepha owns and works in a convenience store in a poor African-American neighborhood in Washington, D.C. In seventeen years (seventeen!) Sepha has made friends with a couple other immigrants from his home country, but that is the extent of his relationships in the entire time. As the neighborhood falls apart around him, and his store continues to fail (it doesn't help that he's rather lackadai ...more
Mar 22, 2008 Jack rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jack by: The City of Seattle
Sadly, this book never really took off for me. I liked the subject (it's about an Ethiopian immigrant living in a gentrifying neighborhood in DC), but I didn't really get into the characters so emotionally the story fell flat.

Half of the story is told in flashbacks telling about the narrator's burgeoning romance with a wealthy white woman who moves into his poor neighborhood, and the other half deals with the fall-out from that relationship. I didn't feel like the balance between these two stor
Feb 02, 2016 Evgeniya rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Много интимна книга, на моменти чак ми беше неудобно, сякаш непознат човек ми споделя безкрайно лични неща за себе си... Откровена, романтично-носталгична, по приятния начин. Насладих й се напълно, като на гоооооляма чаша ароматен чай (или нещо такова).
Aug 15, 2015 Marsha rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The best things about this book are the title, which comes from some lines in Dante's Inferno and the writing--Mengestu uses language beautifully. I even liked the characters at first. It just got so redundant and boring to read about the endless cycle of resignation and defeatism that the main character couldn't break out of. He was so pathetic and irritating.

Sepha Stephanos fled from a bloody revolution in Ethiopia after watching his father be beaten and taken away. It has been 17 years and h
Dinaw Mengestu has written a fine, chilly, American novel set in the America of rundown used car lots and empty strip clubs, dead cities and their suburban fringes, of lonely commuter trains from nowhere to nowhere. Despite the African origins of most of the characters, and the author's own Ethiopian birth, this is very, very much an American novel-- in its stern-faced tone that harkens back to the American novel's mid-century glory days, in its alienated narrator, in its hard-luck immigrants, l ...more
Oct 03, 2014 Praxedes rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I read half of this beautifully written book and was done with it. In a word, nothing happens. A borderline-depressed Ethiopian national lives in Washington DC and endlessly recounts his apathy and general listlessness with life. And when I say nothing happens I am not using hyperbole...nothing happens! The lovely prose was simply not enough to keep me engage in this endless nothingness.
Dec 03, 2014 NeDa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 29
Тиха доброта лъха от всяка страница на тази книга ... Прекрасна!
Jennifer D.
Feb 18, 2015 Jennifer D. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015-books
i finished reading this novel earlier today, and i have been pondering on it a lot. my brain keeps doing this:

the beautiful things that heaven bears, brought to you by the letter D:
* debut
* diaspora
* d.c. (washington)
* dante
* dostoevsky
* disconnection
* dreams

maybe now that i've typed that out, i can move on? heh.

“To get back up to the shining world from there
My guide and I went into that hidden tunnel,

And Following its path, we took no care
To rest, but climbed: he first, then I-so far,
through a
Кремена Михайлова
Още от корицата ме лъхна спокойствие (и от заглавието) и се оказа точно такава и книгата. Имах нужда от нещо такова. Семпло, но мило. Без дори да ме кара да мисля кой знае колко. След толкова американски книги и филми пак ми беше приятно да видя един типичен беден neighbourhood на чернокожи. Лесно влязох в атмосферата.

Поради характера на главния герой може читателят да си помисли, че нищо не се случва, да, не е типичната книга с динамичен сюжет, а по- скоро разказ, спомен…

Като за начинаещ писат
Francesca Forrest
Nov 17, 2012 Francesca Forrest rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-group
Gentle in tone and intimate in its focus, this is exactly the sort of book I was hoping it would be when I suggested it as a possibility for my book group. Sepha Stephanos, an Ethiopian immigrant to the United States, has just two friends, Kenneth (from Kenya) and Joseph (from Congo/Zaire), and spends his days alone reading in his rundown convenience store in a poor neighborhood in Washington, DC. The neighborhood is beginning to be gentrified, and Sepha is befriended by a white incomer, Judith ...more
Nov 26, 2013 Maria rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
От цялата книга лъха меланхолия. Чета и си мисля за самотата на човека, заседнал между двата свята. Без възможност да се върне назад, но и без мотивация, без енергия да продължи напред. Като че ли това е съдбата на голяма част от емигрантите - виждат едно идеализирано минало, страдат по отдавна отчуждили се близки, по отдавна изгубени места и спомени. А в новата държава винаги ще си останат пришълци от някъде. В книгата мога да почуствам самотата много силно, може би точно тя обезсмисля всякакви ...more
Sep 11, 2008 Marguerite rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A thoughtful, sometimes comic, book that explains the American immigrant experience better than anything else I've read. Shopkeeper Sepha appears to embody the American dream, but with his heart still in Ethiopia, his hopes are exiled. He bides his time selling beer and diapers and playing a drinking/trivia game about African coups with two fellow immigrants. Hope arrives in the form of new neighbors, the advance guard of a trend to gentrify the decaying D.C. neighborhood where he has a small st ...more
Jeffrey Dinsmore
Jun 21, 2007 Jeffrey Dinsmore rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of introspective fiction
Full disclosure: I know the author of this book. It is very difficult to judge a book by an author you know. Unless that author is me, in which case it is easy: prognosis - brilliant!

This is the story of an immigrant from Ethiopia and his relationship with his friends, neighbors, and in particular, a small girl in the neighborhood. Not a lot happens, but we learn a lot about the characters and the difficulties facing immigrants in America. The book is getting raves from reviewers, and deservedl
Mar 24, 2008 Rajesh rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Rajesh by: Myself
Mediocrity’s Cookbook: A review of Dinaw Mengestu’s The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears
By Rajesh Barnabas

(For The Ethiopian American, January 2007)

From majestic auspices a middle aged Ethiopian-American shopkeeper negotiates his own desires against the envisioned hopes of his family ancestry or more accurately – his interpretation of their hopes. Sepha Stephanos lives in DC. He moved out of his uncle’s apartment, estranged from the only relative he has in America. His mother and brother still
Mar 23, 2016 Petya rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Това е един силно меланхоличен африкански роман. Много откровен и искрен. Историята на един емигрант, който сякаш е заседнал между два свята. Не се е откъснал от миналото си и все още не се е адаптирал към настоящето, без особена идея за бъдещето. В голяма степен инертен човек, който сякаш е в ролята на наблюдател в живота. Не съм особено впечатлена от книгата, но давам 3 звезди, тъй като в нея все пак имаше някои неща (по-скоро детайли), с които се обогатих.
Jun 29, 2010 Tinea rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Tinea by: British landlord in Ethiopia
Shelves: place, high-lit
I was expecting a depressing, heartwrenching book about atrocities during the Ethiopian revolution, when the Communist Dergue overthrew the brutal Haile Selassie empire for an even more violent dictatorship. Instead I got something sad, slow, and altogether beautiful, about loneliness, poverty, and the problems with rich people, the ways casual ignorance hurts, leaves out, entitles. Children of the Revolution, as the book was published in Britain, isn't about Ethiopia at all. It's about gentrifi ...more
Mar 01, 2012 Olivia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When Sepha Stephanos moves to America to escape the Ethiopian revolution, he expects a country full of opportunity, free of racial persecution, and brimming with people just like him. Now 20 something years later, his expectations have been lowered considerably and he knows better than to expect the best. Running a failing, beaten-down convenient store, Sepha struggles to pay the rent and get through the day. He finds some comfort and solace from his two friends, Joseph and Kenneth, but when Jud ...more
Aug 21, 2015 Eric rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an engaging book that weaves a complicated narrative involving the lives of three African immigrants to the US, interracial relationships, and gentrification. This book gives insight into the hopes, aspirations, and disappointments of Africans in the Diaspora as well as a difficult situation for African Americans undergoing the gentrification of a DC neighborhood. Mengestu does a wonderful job creating an overarching narrative consisting of so many sub-texts. As an historian of Africa an ...more
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 a ...more
Jan 13, 2014 Kathleen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Kathleen by: Molly
Shelves: fiction, read-in-2014
Sepha Stephanos, an immigrant from Ethiopia, owns a corner store in a poor neighborhood so that he can spend his days reading and getting by. He may be the most sympathetic screw-up in all of literature. I definitely found him to be incredibly easy to relate to. In his friends he has foils of more popular immigrant stories, a poetic waiter, a frugal, hard working engineer, and a taxi driver who was once a very important man.

I love the strangely sad trivia game Sepha and his friends make of Afri
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Capitol Hill Reads!: Second October Discussion 2 7 Oct 20, 2014 12:09PM  
immigration 1 22 Mar 24, 2008 08:35AM  
  • Knots
  • Notes from the Hyena's Belly: An Ethiopian Boyhood
  • Beneath the Lion's Gaze
  • Petals of Blood
  • I Do Not Come to You by Chance
  • Reading the Ceiling
  • Song for Night
  • The Boy Next Door
  • Little Boys Come from the Stars
  • AMA
  • The Heart of Redness
  • Lost City Radio
  • The Memory of Love
  • The Healers
  • Surrender or Starve: Travels in Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, and Eritrea
  • The End
  • One Day I Will Write About This Place: A Memoir
  • The Radiance of the King
Left Ethiopia at age two and was raised in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois. Graduated from Georgetown University and received his MFA from Columbia University. In 2010 he was chosen as one of the 20 best writers under 40 by The New Yorker.
More about Dinaw Mengestu...

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“It's hard sometimes to remember why we do anything in the first place. It's nice to think there's a purpose, or even a real decision that turns everything in one direction, but that's not always true, is it? We just fall into our lives.” 16 likes
“There are those who wake up each morning to conquer the day, and then there are those of us who wake up only because we have to. We live in the shadow of every neighborhood. We own little corner stores, live in run-down apartments that get too little light, and walk the same streets day after day. We spend our afternoons gazing lazily out of windows. Somnambulists, all of us. Someone else said it better: we wake to sleep and sleep to wake.” 11 likes
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