STARRED REVIEW
September 07, 2011

Searching for home

By Dinaw Mengestu
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Ethiopian writer Dinaw Mengestu’s second novel, How to Read the Air, provides an unforgettable look at an immigrant family adapting to life in America. Jonas, a high school teacher, is at loose ends thanks to his dying marriage. The son of Ethiopian parents Yosef and Mariam—anotstraither unhappily married pair—Jonas grew up in a tension-filled household in Peoria, Illinois. Trying to achieve some resolution with his past, Jonas retraces a road trip his parents took (from Peoria to Nashville) on their honeymoon. Through flashbacks that offer searing scenes from Jonas’ childhood, revealing an abusive Yosef and a miserable Mariam, the novel skillfully spans two generations. How Jonas learns to live with his legacy of displacement and disillusionment makes for a richly rewarding narrative. Mengestu, whose debut novel, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears (2007), also won critical acclaim, offers a beautifully constructed family drama that draws on timeless themes of identity and alienation.

 

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How to Read the Air

How to Read the Air

By Dinaw Mengestu
Riverhead
ISBN 9781594487705

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