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All Our Names

3.61  ·  Rating details ·  4,532 ratings  ·  561 reviews
All Our Names is the story of two young men who come of age during an African revolution, drawn from the safe confines of the university campus into the intensifying clamor of the streets outside. But as the line between idealism and violence becomes increasingly blurred, the friends are driven apart—one into the deepest peril, as the movement gathers inexorable force, and ...more
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published March 4th 2014 by Knopf
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Average rating 3.61  · 
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 ·  4,532 ratings  ·  561 reviews

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Elyse  Walters
Feb 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I read this book in one sitting during the dark hours totally immersed in the world that
Dinaw Mengestu created.
It was achingly beautiful- full of hardships but with friendships.....powerfully examines the background of political complexities - injustice - race - idealism -suppression - fear - self-expression - and love.

The intimacy in the storytelling kept me turning the pages. This 'intimacy' I felt in the opening sentence is told by the narrator with no name.
"When Isaac and I first met at
Ron Charles
Nov 13, 2013 rated it liked it
Dinaw Mengestu left his native Ethiopia when he was just a toddler, but he still experienced America as an immigrant, and that challenge continues to shape his fiction. Raised in suburban Chicago, he began his career in Washington with a novel set around Logan Circle called “The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears” (2007). The National Book Foundation and the New Yorker quickly identified him as a rising star. Now an English professor at Georgetown University, Mengestu has just published his thir ...more
Sara Nelson
Mar 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Idealism, disillusionment, justice and love--these are the topics beautifully explored in this novel by the MacArthur “Genius” grantee and author of How to Read the Air. A young African man called Isaac has come to the Midwestern United States, where he embarks on a relationship with Helen, a social worker, who, for all her heart and intelligence, has trouble understanding him. Part illusion, part product of the revolutionary past in his own country, Isaac purposely makes himself unknowable. Wh ...more
Jessica Leight
Mar 23, 2014 rated it it was ok
I found this book to be strangely vague and lacking in specificity for my taste. The characters are so broadly drawn to be unknowable, and the settings seem somewhat unreal - Kampala at a vague point in the past, and the Midwest also at some vague point in the past. The relationship between the narrator and his friend Isaac seemed weirdly inexplicable: what actually drew them together? Why did one follow the other so blindly? One review suggested that it was meant to be a sexual relationship; th ...more
Jan 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
Set in post-colonial Uganda at a time where the celebratory optimism of new found liberation had not yet diminished, the story begins with the hopes and ambitions of two friends named Isaac. Fuelled by revolutionary dreams, the boys set up their own ‘paper revolution’ on a Kampala University campus before becoming swept up in the harsh realities of violence, war and power struggles.

Split in two, the narrative is shared by Isaac and Helen, the white American lover Isaac later meets in Midwest Ame
A story narrated in alternate chapters, one entitled Isaac, the other Helen. Isaac takes place during a short perios in the life of the male protagonist after he as left the family village somewhere in Ethiopia, planning never to return, arriving in Kampala, a city in Uganda where he hopes to study at the university. It is there he meets a young man named Isaac, recognising in him a similar ambition and humble origins, though in his presence he is also aware of an undercurrent of fear and trepid ...more
Nabse Bamato
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Donovan Lessard
Mar 04, 2014 rated it liked it
All Our Names has some fantastic moments, for sure. Mengestu's ability to tell stories, in particular, shines in the story of 'disappearing city', a 2-3 page parable that is remarkable. There were many times where I underlined some truly beautiful sentences and paragraphs. However, these gems lay buried in the rough which sprouts throughout the majority of this novel. The writing is just not there, the majority of the time. The dialogue is often not believable or convincing.

Perhaps the most inte
Susan (aka Just My Op)
This is one of those books I thought I would like, I wanted to like, and in the end, I just shook my head and walked away.

Stories of the revolutions in Africa can be riveting if also heartbreaking. This one was neither. There wasn't enough detail about the actual revolution to teach me anything new. It was all vague us/them conflicts.

The story is told from two points of view: Helen and Isaac. “Helen” was told in first person, but I just didn't like the character. She was out to save the world bu
Jan 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
All Our Names by Dinaw Mengestu is a poignant story of two men and a woman. The two men are friends who meet in what is probably Uganda, right before the wars began. The woman is the lover of one of the men who comes to the United States. The time is about a decade after the end of segregation so the affair between this white woman and this African man has that to deal with but that is much less than his silence about his history and ultimately his identity.

The story is told in chapters alternat
Feb 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
What’s in a name? For many people, a name is a link to a proud lineage, a tethering to the past, a solid reinforcement of identity. The key character, Isaac, reminisces, “I had thirteen names. Each name was from a different generation, beginning with Father and going back from him. I was the first one in our village to have thirteen names. Our family was considered blessed to have such a history.”

All Our Names – surely Dinaw Mengestu’s most assured book to date – explores what happens when names
Jan 07, 2016 rated it liked it
This is probably more of an observation that will make sense to others that have read the book more so than a review for people that haven't...

I’m not sure if I missed the connection between the love story and the revolution. Or maybe there wasn’t supposed to be one - just Issac’s (I think we finally know him as Daniel) before as told by him and after as told through Helen. I never did learn to care for that Helen character. She’s the reason I quit reading the book the first time. But I guess I’
Dov Zeller
(posting pretty much the same review as I posted for "What Belongs to Us"

This morning I found myself thinking of pairings of books the way one might think of pairings of honey and cheese or wine and dessert.

Or, at least, I find that reading books side by side can influence or clarify my experience (add depth, flavor, color, understandings...)

It was a wonderful coincidence that I wound up reading "What Belongs to You" at the same time as "All of Our Names." Their similarities and differences wer
May 03, 2014 rated it it was ok
Another reviewer has captured my thought; the characters are so detached from themselves and their fragmented and tormented worlds that I found it difficult to develop an attachment to any of them. I found myself viewing the settings as characters instead.
switterbug (Betsey)
Feb 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
Mengestu’s third novel—another about the immigrant experience—is his most accomplished and soulful, in my opinion. He returns again to the pain of exile and the quest for identity, as well as the need for a foreigner from a poor and developing country to reinvent himself. In addition, he alternates the landscape of post-colonial Uganda with the racially tense Midwest of the 1970s, and demonstrates that the feeling of exile can also exist in an American living in her own hometown. The cultural co ...more
Jul 02, 2014 rated it did not like it
Two narrators, both alike in dignity, in torn East Africa and Middle West America do we lay our scene. From forth the ancient hatred and warfare of racial and territorial foes, a pair of star crossed lovers take their tales; and with misadventurous, piteous overthrows, thus with their tales do bore me to death.

But there are a few wonderful scenes of grand imagination - the concept of a city, the escape of the burden of your name.

It's not the characters's plights that were the problem, although t
Sep 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
Excellent! Not quite as good as The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, but excellent nonetheless. ...more
When I started All Our Names, it brought to mind Jhumpa Lahiri's The Lowland. It was also an immigrant story, also about one main character active in a revolution that predictably ends badly. I loved that book. I was expecting the same out of All Our Names, although I'm aware that the link I made between the two books was the most basic and superficial kind. Needless to say, that didn't happen.

I did like it, don't get me wrong. The beginning was terrific. But, the two first person POVs both soun
I was not impressed. This book is essentially two forbidden love stories: one between the "real" Isaac and Joseph and one between Helen and D--- ("fake" Isaac). Mengestu tries to make parallel lines between racism and homophobia and she throws in revolution and Africa wars to be politically correct, but the whole thing didn't feel real.

Most disappointing was the monotonous similarity between Helen and Isaac as narrators. These are very different people, telling very different (if somewhat overl
Kasa Cotugno
This is one of those books so infused with pain and thought. It both challenges and benumbs a reader. The era is late sixties, necessary to know from the beginning, or else too much time is spent piecing together pieces of the puzzle and not going with the flow of the narrative. Told in alternating chapters, the story goes from unnamed African country (probably Uganda) to unknown mid-western American town. The African chapters entitled Isaac, narrated by a friend of Isaac, deal with youth, revol ...more
Wilhelmina Jenkins
Jul 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book alternates voices between a young Ethiopian man in Uganda at the time of Idi Amin and a white woman in the Midwest. I do not want to spoil the book, so I will just say that identities in this book are fluid and a great deal remains unsaid. I found the book to be a bit less satisfying than I would have liked, but I gave it 4 stars, bounced up from 3 1/2, because it left me with a lot to think about.
Although I was anticipating a more powerful read, this was a nicely told story about war, life in Africa & new discoveries in America. Good not great.
Nov 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars

A dual perspective story about a young boy growing up in war torn Africa and then a young man learning how to maneuver small town America before the civil rights movement. The story is told from "Issac" in Africa and Helen, his young white lover, in America.
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
If I were to sum up this novel in one word, it would be enigmatic. It is a short book, though not a fast read, centering around an unnamed young man from Ethiopia; alternate chapters present his life in Uganda, narrated by himself, and his later experiences in the U.S., narrated by a young social worker named Helen. To confuse matters further, Helen knows him as “Isaac” – an identity he assumed from his best friend in Uganda – so that both threads revolve around the narrator’s relationship with ...more
Dec 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
All Our Names asks a lot more questions than it answers. If you struggle with ambiguity, it probably isn't the book for you.

Unless your New Year's resolution is to get more comfortable with ambiguity. In that case, this book will scratch you like sandpaper until all its ambiguity can slide right on through.

Or until you chuck it at the wall.

Told in alternating chapters, the story centers around an African man both before and after he immigrates to the American Midwest in the 1960s-70s. One stor
Feb 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
How does one go from a revolution in Africa to a small town in Mid-West America? We learn the outline of how the physical journey happened but the emotional journey remains shrouded. This is a book about identity, or perhaps more accurately, non-identity. It is a story of sadness and pain and finally truth. But, in spite of all the sadness and pain there is a sense of hope.

Two narrators tell their stories in alternating chapters. Isaac (we never learn the name his family gave him) starts. He is
Ana Ovejero
Jan 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
This story appears to be a narrative about a man called Issac, told from two different points of view in two different times, and , however, I think this character is the less known as the book is closed.

The story is divided in two parts. One is named 'Issac' and displays the adventures two young men live in revolutionary times in Uganda. We are never told the name of the narrator: he is called 'the professor', 'Dickens', 'Heaney' and several names as the narrative goes on and his connection wit
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Dec 04, 2013 rated it liked it
Recommended to Jenny (Reading Envy) by: Claire
This novel moves between two points of view - one story taking place immediately during the 1970s revolution in Uganda after all the non-Africans have been forced out, and one taking place a little bit after that, in the USA. The central character is Isaac, although that is likely not his name - he came to Kampala to the university from a bordering country.

It gets a bit confusing because in the African storyline, the narrator is also Isaac and the chapters are named Isaac but there are two. Rac
Sep 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In the ongoing quest to read internationally…I selected this book, because I’ve only started reading African authors pretty recently. Also, oddly enough it came up when doing searches at the local library for dystopia and apocalyptic fiction…this book is resolutely neither. Actually I was thinking today how all these African authors are actually by the most literal definition African American, having been born In Africa and maybe spent a childhood there, but then move to US (or UK) as adults for ...more
Billy O'Callaghan
Jul 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: around-the-world
In recent years, American letters has tended to be dominated by writers of hyphenated identity. Such superstars of the literary firmament as Junot Diaz, Jhumpa Lahiri, Yiyn Li and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie are all elsewhere-born, U.S.-raised, and all focus in spectacular, award-winning fashion on that most basic and defining American characteristic: namely, the immigrant experience within the Land of the Free. But while not yet as well known as those already mentioned, Dinaw Mengestu, whose famil ...more
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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.

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His Favorite Books About Revolution: The sweep of political change, tinged with hope and turmoil, dominates his new novel, All Our Names, as well...
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“didn’t know one another’s names or ages or reasons for being there, and that was fine, because silence isn’t the same when it’s shared. Its sad and lonely sides are shunted off.” 1 likes
“No one will ever have loved each other more than we did.” 1 likes
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