I am a bit disappointed…

…by Dinaw Mengestu’s new book. Most of his stories explore the immigrant or second-generation experience in America, typically Ethiopians. His recent New Yorker short story was terrifically engaging. His Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears was one of my favorite books of 2008. The characters were deeply quirky, and you cared about them. I’m a third of the way through his new novel and, in comparison, the characters seem  bland.

Even so, Mengestu is still one of the best American writers I think we should all watch. I will give the third novel a try.

One thought on “I am a bit disappointed…

  1. I disagree. I am about 1/3 of the way through as well, and I actually love the fact that, for once, this is not a “henna novel” (that’s how my friends and I refer to all those novels about the fantastical life stories of exotic immigrants from far away Asia/Africa that are beloved by suburban mothers in book clubs, because they often have women’s hands covered in henna or some equivalent “cultural” symbol on the book covers) but a real story about real immigrants’ struggle. And in fact, I thought the main character working at a refugee clinic to embellish the applicants’ narratives to fit the idea of what their life would (or even should) have been in the minds of the judges, lawyers and whoever else that would read the documents was a spot-on self-referential portrayal of the immigrant writer’s dilemma (of having to cater to readers’ taste for fairy tales and glorified violence and suffering in their mother countries that may not actually reflect their own thoughts about and experience in their home countries). Since Chang Rae Lee, Mengestu is the only immigrant/second-generation writer I encountered who acknowledges that dilemma and makes conscious efforts to write a more honest story.