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.