If it’s not clear by now, my reading tendencies are novels by African women and novels highlighting the immigrant experience. I find so much of myself in them and cherish that shared experience described in so many different ways usually featuring a triumphant or not so triumphant strive to assimilate old world traditions with new world opportunities.
Sepha Stephanos, the protagonist in Mr. Mengestu’s first novel, “came [to America] running and screaming with the ghosts of an old [life] firmly attached to [his back]. [His] goal since then has always been a simple one: to persist unnoticed through the days, to do no more harm.”
In this way, the familiar immigrant narrative takes a melancholic turn. After fleeing the Ethiopian Revolution during which he witnessed soldiers beat his father to the point of death, he finds himself running a shabby convenience store in a run-down neighbourhood of Washington, D.C. His only friends are two other African immigrants, Ken from Kenya and Joseph from Congo, whose stories are equally bitterly frustrating. Their main past-time is a game of recalling coups in African countries and their dictators while bitterly and silently joking about how life in America has not quite turned out the way they imagined. In this first person narrative, Stephanos also makes keen observations of class and racial tensions in America while striking up an unexpected friendship with a family new to his neighbourhood.
I loved this novel. It is written in such a hauntingly charming quiet prose and the characters are so real. Though I do not know people in such a sad state of despair, no I guess the people in my life have achieved the American dream in their own way, I can imagine that these might be some of the unfulfilled dreams and romantic aspirations of other not so successful immigrants to America that I encounter in my day to day life.