Picks and Pans Review: The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears
REVIEWED BY FRANCINE PROSE
Sepha Stephanos, the hero of 28-year-old Dinaw Mengestu's engaging first novel, has run a grocery store in an inner-city neighborhood in Washington, D.C., for 17 years. A refugee from war-torn Ethiopia, Sepha spends his spare time with his African friends Kenneth and Joe, drinking, telling tall tales about the former dictators who ruled the continent they escaped, and analyzing the locals. (American men, Kenneth decides, "are so successful because they say the same thing over and over.... Every day my boss comes in, and he says to me, 'You still fighting the good fight, Kenneth?'") But when a white woman named Judith and her daughter fix up a house and move in next door, their presence (and the gentrification that it signals) creates a disturbance on the block—and troubles the peace that Sepha has made with his uneventful, lonely life. The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears is a tender, thoughtful novel that quietly takes on serious themes: the meaning of home and family, of nationality and exile, of isolation and connection.