AdultFiction Teton County Library's Reviews > All Our Names

All Our Names by Dinaw Mengestu
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's review
Sep 30, 14

it was amazing
bookshelves: literary-fiction
Read in September, 2014

TCL Call #: F Mengestu D

Cindy's rating: 5 stars
"All Our Names" like Dinaw Mengestu's two previous novels is a story about a man who comes to America from another country to begin a new life. Consequently his name can often be found under the simple classification "novelist of the immigrant experience"...and while it's true that ethnicity, race and emigrating from your place of origin do play a role in his stories, they almost become the setting for the much richer tale he tells about the complexities of human relationships.
It's been written that his previous novels, good as they were, were warmups to this book, and I agree. Once I started reading I couldn't put it down. Each chapter is told in alternating narratives between Helen, a social worker in the midwest and Isaac, the African immigrant whose case she is assigned.
The beauty of this novel is about the relationship that develops between Helen and Isaac. For Isaac, how does what came before shape the life he is creating in this new place. What he chooses to reveal or not impacts Helen's response to him and reverberates throughout her midwestern life.
Helen and Isaac are in transition, Isaac moving away from both his home of origin and his name and Helen easing away from her midwestern confines and "middle of the road" family values to something all her own. It's a novel about finding out who you are when all you came from is gone. While there is no grand happy ending, the resulting truth we are left with is much more satisfying and real.
Great writing, a compelling story and characters who care about each other make this a beautiful read.

Marisa's rating: 4 stars
Thanks for the recommendation, Cindy! This was a lyrical and beautifully written story about two people trying to find common ground, when their backgrounds are are vastly different. What I loved most about this novel was the care the author took to explain and describe certain aspects of the story and not others. It is what was left out of the plot that emphasizes the feelings of abandonment, loneliness, attachment and affection in this book.
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04/22/2014 marked as: read

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