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on 11 June 2013
The narrator of this beautifully written and evocative story, Sepha Stephanos, fled Ethiopia following the death of his father at the hands of the Red Terror. The story opens 17 years following Sepha's immigration to the US, in Washington DC where he now runs his own rundown store in a fairly rough neighbourhood. He has two staunch friends i.e. Kenneth from Kenya"the engineer" and Joe "the poet" from the Congo; all three were full of hope and optimism about their futures when they first arrived in the US but are now all disillusioned with the American Dream.

These three lonely African exiles endeavour to sustain each other as they try to break with their native country's violent past and attempt to build new lives in their adopted country.

Joe's suburb is being cleaned up and rebuilt to accommodate middle-class people with dire consquences for some of the locals and when the well-off Judith moves into the neighbourhood with her daughter, Naomi, Joe begins to make friends with them and is especially taken with Naomi, a very intelligent but troubled child.

Mengistu's prose is mellifluous and beautiful and perfectly conveys what it must mean to be an exile and his characters are finely drawn; I came to care about all three exiles but especially Sepha, a gentle and engaging man facing trials we can only imagine with quiet dignity and strength.

I enjoyed every word in this novel and was terribly reluctant to let Sepha go as I wanted to continue to see how his life and the lives of his two friends evolved.

I highly recommend this thought-provoking book.
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on 7 October 2008
This beautifully written study of emigration and the consequent hopes, fears and disorientation tells the tale of Sepha Stephanos, an Ethiopian refugee who fled after his father's murder to America. Seventeen years later he is in Washington DC living from day to day, running a neglected grocery store in a rough neighbourhood.

Mengistu paints a very tender picture of Stephanos, a man who never wanted to come to America, as he says, "I did not come to America to find a better life. I came here running and screaming with the ghosts of an old one still firmly attached to my back." He spends his days escaping into the world of fiction and regular evenings with his two African friends musing over Africa and its troubles. When Judith (a former University lecturer) and her half African daughter Naomi move in next door to him, for the first time since he arrived in the US, he has a chance to make American friends. Is this his chance to finally find himself and a purpose to his immigrant life?

Mengistu's novel is a real gem. Winner of the Guardian First Book Award, it tells a very poignant tale of isolation, of loss and of the difficulty of reconciling any kind of hope for the future with pain, guilt and fear from the past. Thought-provoking and touching, it's a really good read.
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on 20 September 2013
I wasn't sure what to expect of this, the first novel of an unknown writer (pace Christine Keeler - well, he would be, wouldn't he?). My admittedly very limited experience of writers from the third world, and specifically Africa, has been generally rather unsatisfying, involving as it has works of "Magical Realism" which fall flat as a pancake for me. However, this was a fine work which I found immensely satisfying. Mengestu is one of the most skilful writers I've ever come across, and I look forward to reading more of his work.

It deals, briefly, with Sepha Stephanos, a young(ish) Ethiopian who fled his war-ravaged country 17 years before and who now runs a general store in Washington D.C. He is a rather feckless, dreamy character who spends his life in a state of constant bemusement, observing life rather than taking part, and running his fly-blown shop in a run-down part of D.C. as an intermittent hobby, open ten hours one day and ten minutes the next. He has two African friends scarcely more in touch with reality than him. They meet regularly, drink a lot, and play games, such as "Where I'm going to be in ten years time", and "Name the Revolution" (the first involving inflated, almost fantastical notions of becoming engineers or university lecturers, the second a sort of Name-That-Tune, where one will mention an African dictator and the others will have to identify the year and country of his revolt). One day he meets Judith and her daughter Naomi, and as the possibility of something more than living in a hopeless fantasy-land approaches, he endeavours to engage with Life...

Mengestu reminds me of Hemingway; each writes with apparent, almost monosyllabic, simplicity, yet manages with great skill to explore the innermost thoughts of the protagonist and engage the sympathy and understanding of the reader. The simplicity of the style belies the sophistication underliying it, and conveys Sepha's thoughts in a limpid way that allows you to see the world through his eyes. At times it's extremely funny, at others almost unbearably touching.
In case you haven't guessed, I loved it. Not everyone will, but I strongly advise you to take a chance. Don't worry - it's not "The Last Flight of the Flamingo".
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on 27 May 2009
An affecting story of refugees from three African countries who have found unfulfilling and unrewarding occupations in Washington DC. Despite, or perhaps because of, their relative material impoverishment and drinking habits, they fail to integrate into mainstream US society, but nevertheless maintain rich and dignified personal integrity. A brilliant and excellently written insight into the lives and aspirations of those on the margins of society.
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on 24 April 2010
This story about three African men living in Washington DC is extremely well written, but the title is a little misleading. The three friends, who met while working in the same hotel, might have escaped from revolutions back in their respective home countries (Ethiopia, Kenya and Zaire) but now that they are in Washington they live quiet lives in a run-down neighborhood, struggling to earn a living with varying degrees of success.
Narrated by Stephanos, son of an Ethiopian aristocrat who was killed by the thugs that took over his country, this is a gentle tale of displacement, friendship, longing for the old country and lost family. Not a great deal happens, but the quality of the writing makes it very readable. I wavered between three and four stars.
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on 28 April 2015
A very depressing book. I am not sure I will be able to finish reading it.
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on 2 January 2012
I picked this book up for my mother as I thought she would enjoy it. She did. As it was a short read, I decided to read it this Christmas while I was in Madrid. I loved it too.

The writing, the story and the characters are all quite unassuming. The insight into the characters' lives is such that you get a real feel for their past. Children of the Revolution (apparently also released under the title Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears, according to an Amazon review) is the story of an Ethiopian living in the USA. Of course, like all good books, it manages to build a whole community of characters, creating plenty of stories and images that linger in your mind after you have finished the book.

It's an easy read because it is well written (it won the Guardian First Book Award); sometimes it can't help being sad because of the reality it is rooted in but it also has plenty of hope, much like its central character.
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on 19 August 2014
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VINE VOICEon 6 May 2008
The harsh experience of African immigrants to the USA is revealed in this beautifully written novel, set mainly in Washington DC. It reminded me a little of V.S.Naipaul at his best. I recommend this book unreservedly as a window into a world most of us will only glimpse from the outside but need to understand.
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on 26 August 2008
There isn't enough meat here for more than a short story, and the reading experience is dull.

Te author simply doesn't have an interesting enough "take" on things to be able to fill out the pages. His imagination is banal, and he frequently resorts to lazy stylisitic devices to try to affect the reader. These often involve exaggerations which quickly tire. The author's use of language is generally flat.

The central relationships are immemorable, except possibly that with his lover's daughter. The particularities of the various Africans in the book are not distinctly enough drawn to merit interest, nor are the narrators experiences of the particularities of American culture.

I suspect that this book was favourably reviewed because of the novelty of the immigrant's viewpoint being that of an Ethiopian. But when you compare it to other great immigrant fiction- Naipal, Singer or Nabokov it's very thin indeed.
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