National Endowment for the Arts - The 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.

Willing Davidson: The book sort of hinges on two newcomers who come into the neighborhood of Logan Circle in Washington, DC. Until then, Logan Circle is a sort of slightly seedy area, and in fact, that's part of what makes Stephanos' store initially something of a success. His income is based on selling alcohol, based on selling milk, condoms—other things that people drop in for. He's open late, but suddenly this neighborhood starts to change a bit. And one of the biggest signals of this change is when a woman named Judith and her daughter, Naomi, buy a big house. The Circle is filled with big houses, but they've mostly been abandoned or cut up into apartments or some of them have been set on fire. So they move in, and for months they renovate this building, and that also gets trade to Stephanos' store: the construction workers coming in for lunch. And when it's done, this white woman and her daughter of mixed race are living in this house. And for the moment, they're a little out of place in the neighborhood, but they're also a sign of the changes to come to the neighborhood. And Stephanos, as an African immigrant, is something of an outsider to this debate about gentrification. And so when he meets Judith, they start off as friends, and then she becomes his love interest.

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