NEA Big Read
The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears

The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears

by Dinaw Mengestu

The stories he invented himself he told with particular delight. They all began in the same way, with the same lighthearted tone, with a small wave of the hand, as if the world were being brushed to the sideā€¦

Dinaw Mengestu. Copyright Matthieu Zazzo.

In a review of Dinaw Mengestu's first novel, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, the New York Times called it “a great African novel, a great Washington novel and a great American novel.” Sepha Stephanos narrates his experiences across these worlds as an Ethiopian immigrant shopkeeper in a predominantly poor African-American neighborhood in Washington, DC. Blending humor with sadness and layering the present with images from the past, Mengestu charts Stephanos's heartbreaking loneliness, his companionship with two fellow African immigrants who mourn and love their countries, and his budding friendship with a young girl and her mother who recently moved into the gentrifying neighborhood. This is a subtly rendered novel, combining despair with hints of the beautiful things in life.

Listen to Willing Davidson, a fiction editor at The New Yorker, talk about this debut novel.

“After seventeen years here, I am certain of at least one thing: the liberal idea of America is at its best in advertising.”
—Sepha Stephanos in The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears

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