Kirstie's Reviews > The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears

The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu
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's review
Dec 28, 2010

really liked it
Recommended to Kirstie by: Mom
Read from December 28 to 29, 2010 — I own a copy

I really think this is an important novel for people in America who may not understand race relations, African coup and genocides, and an immigrant's perspective. The novel really deals with a sense of humanity in terms of an African immigrant who escapes brutality to start over in America and his two friends who continually recall the history of each revolution in each African country. It seems like every single country is wracked with a sense of political revolutions and violence.

In America, this violence is more subtle and takes place over a larger expanse of time. It's the violence that comes with re-gentrification and opportunity for profit. We all know the story-it's the story of Cabrini Green in Chicago, for example, and happens in many neighborhoods throughout probably every major city in America and beyond. A neighborhood is affordable to live in and, even if there is crime, there is often a sense of community and similar background. There is also a similar economics at play. So when people with money start to invest in housing in the place, suddenly the cost of housing for the people who have lived their all of their lives rises drastically. Those people are usually evicted and have to move to another location. Meanwhile, those buildings, often tenements, are razed and condos and townhomes that are much more $$$ are erected. I think this often happens because, in a housing boom, people buy into the idea of owning property but often people even in the middle-upper middle class bracket have difficulty buying the housing they want in the neighborhood they they move to neighborhoods where housing is cheaper, which causes those neighborhoods to change in a way that excludes and discriminates against it's long term residents.

I don't think there's an easy answer to this dilemma and often I think it's something that results from local city government policy that perceives the existing citizens as trouble and instead of offering them support, the local government decides to try to push these people to different counties and cities to avoid dealing with the issues of poverty and crime altogether. The mayor and governors see these residents as a loss in terms of tax dollars and a financial strain, not the human factor at all.

But the novel also really shows the possibilities of unusual friendship,a kinship with oddly the great Dostoevsky, and a sense of what an African immigrant's life might be like here in all its assorted new perils and issues. My main issue with it is that it was waaay too short. These ideas and issues are too complex for a mere 228 pages to be fully explored. The novel would be much more realized at 500-600 pages imo.

Favorite quotes:

pg 38: "They had names like Chocolate and Velvet, always things that you could touch and taste because the imagination is nothing if not tactile."

pg 130: "I've never felt a disappointment so close to hatred again."

pg 162-163: "There was a unique fear that came with feeling that it was the inanimate objects around you that frightened you most."

pg. 169: "To what we hope is nothing short of a permanent dawn."

pg. 221: "Our weapons are not accidents. They're a part of who we are."

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