The beautiful things that heaven bears

The last walk we took around that park was on January 23, 1977, less than six months before he was killed. We had just entered the park grounds when we saw the first of seven bodies neatly lined up in the center of the grass. They were lined up in a row, their feet bare, just inside the entrance. They were impossible to miss or avoid. Hung around each of their necks was a crudely made cardboard sign that simply read “Traitor.”

A lone sentry, no older than the boys lying on the ground, guarded the bodies. He stood to the side so as not to interrupt the view, a rifle slung lazily over his shoulder. It would have been easy enough to turn around and walk back out of the park. With the exception of the guard and the bodies, no one else was there.

Instead of leaving, my father pulled me around to his side and placed one arm over my shoulder and led me forward, around the same path that we had always walked on, as if the bodies and the guard assigned to watch them had never been there. It was the simplest act of defiance my father could think of. An arrogant, almost blind refusal to give in to the self-proclaimed terror of the revolution.

That is Sepha, an Ethiopian émigré in America, thinking back twenty years to his last days with his father. Sepha, now building  a life (of sorts) on the decaying edges of Washington DC, is the creation of Dinaw Mengestu, an Ethiopian émigré himself. The novel, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, is worth picking up.

The Washington Post covers Mengestu here.

2 thoughts on “The beautiful things that heaven bears

  1. I thought that passage was from “Children of the Revolution?” Is it the same book with a different title? On amazon it looks the same… Great book though.

  2. My favorite passage from that book, which is more about the main character’s loneliness than about his experience in Ethiopia per se, is this:

    When asked by my uncle Berhane why I had chosen to open a corner store in a poor black neighborhood when nothing in my life had prepared me for such a thing, i never said that it was because all I wanted out of life now was to read quietly, and alone, for as much of the day as possible. I left him and his modest two-bedroom apartmet in the suburbs in order to move to Logan Circle, a decision he has yet to understandn or forgive me for, despite what he says. He used to have the grandest ambitions for me when I first arrived from Ethiopia. “Just wait and see,” he would tell me in that soft-spoken, eloquent voice of his. “You will be an engineer or a dotor. I only wish your father could have lived to see it.” Tears would well up in his eyes sometimes as he spoke about the future, which he believed could only be filled with better and beautiful things. Here in Logan Circle, though, I didn’t have to be anything greater than what I already was. I was poor, black, and wore the anonymity othat came with that as a shield against all of the early ambitions of the immigrant, which had ong since abandoned me, assuming they had ever really been mine to begin with. As it was, I did not come to America to find a better life. I came here running and screaming with the ghosts of an old one firmly attached to my back. My goal since then has always been a simple one: to persist unnoticed through the days, to do no more harm.