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The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears

3.66  ·  Rating details ·  6,662 ratings  ·  1,048 reviews
A haunting and powerful first novel that views the streets of Washington, D.C. and Addis Ababa through the eyes of Sepha who, seventeen years ago, fled Ethiopia during the Revolution, and now runs a failing convenience store in a poor African-American neighborhood in Washington. Published as The Beautiful Thing That Heaven Bears in the USA, Canada and Australia; and as ...more
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published March 1st 2007 by Riverhead Books
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Average rating 3.66  · 
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 ·  6,662 ratings  ·  1,048 reviews


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Peter
Apr 20, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Paul Bryant
Sep 30, 2007 rated it it was ok
Shelves: novels
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
Marieke
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 ...more
Emma
Jul 02, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Rashida
Nov 03, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Gary  the Bookworm
Nov 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos This 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 ...more
James
Oct 23, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Beautifully written story of an ethiopian immigrant in DC. For me it perfectly captured the alienness of belonging to two cultures and therefore belonging to none. Wished the ending offered some closure.
El
Sep 07, 2009 rated it it was ok
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 ...more
Richard Derus
Jan 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Irene
Jul 08, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: own-a-copy
I feel like I wasted my time reading this and believe me I really wanted to like this one too.

And indeed I did like a lot of it but the ending..WHAT THE FUCK??
Barbara
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 ...more
Jack
Mar 18, 2008 rated it it was ok
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
...more
Suzanne
Jan 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Marsha
Aug 15, 2015 rated it it was ok
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
...more
Jeffrey Dinsmore
Apr 02, 2007 rated it liked it
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
...more
Saleh MoonWalker
Onvan : The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears - Nevisande : Dinaw Mengestu - ISBN : 1594489408 - ISBN13 : 9781594489402 - Dar 240 Safhe - Saal e Chap : 2007
Bren
Jul 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I won't be assigning this book to my students, because its depressing, and not a lot happens. Melancholy Ethiopian exile approaching middle-age runs shabby corner store in DC, makes only two friends over the course of seventeen years, botches romance with divorced professor lady, and remains traumatized by the death of his father at the hands of the Mengistu regime. See what I mean? And yet, I absolutely loved it. Its wryly funny, totally heartbreaking, and wonderful on being a reluctant ...more
Andrew
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, ...more
Praxedes
Oct 03, 2014 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.
Sarah Dorothea
Dec 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
4.5 out of 5 stars! I really loved reading this book at university. It was so much fun. I even wrote a paper on it during my bachelor. It‘s such a „beautiful“ story of an Ethopian immigrant who came to America during the Ethopian revolution wanting to fulfill his version of the American dream. I‘d very very much recommend reading it!!! ...more
Francesca Forrest
Nov 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Craig Werner
Equally depressing and convincing, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears focuses on an Ethiopian immigrant (and to a lesser degree his Kenyan and Zairean friends) in late 20th century Washington D.C. The narrator lives in the gentrifying neighborhood around Logan Circle, struggling to keep hyis small store open while dealing with loneliness and memory. Mengestu's unsparing in his portrayal of the chaos on the African continent--the endless coups and revolutions, all manifestations of capitalist ...more
Jennifer
May 14, 2014 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
...more
Rajesh
Mar 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Nick
Oct 12, 2013 rated it liked it
Dinaw Mengistu is a fluid and effective writer. His settings are convincing--quite an accomplishment when they range from an imperfectly gentrifying slice of the U.S. Capitol, and the brutal revolution of Ethiopia--his characters are human, their dilemmas real. In “The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears“, he sets Sepha, an Ethiopian displaced and justly haunted by that revolution and its harrowing effect on his family, in Washington’s Logan Square, a tough neighborhood that gentrifiers have not ...more
Marguerite
Sep 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Tinea
Jun 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Olivia
Mar 01, 2012 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 ...more
Eric
Jan 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Edna
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 ...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.
“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.” 21 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.” 12 likes
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