This year the Seattle Reads program, originally titled “What if Seattle Read the Same Book?” when Nandy Pearl and Chris Higashi started it in 1998, celebrates 10 years. Ten years of community discussions and events around amazing books or author’s works from Russell Banks to Isabel Allende to Marjane Satrapi to Jhumpa Lahiri, to name a few.
This year’s inspired choice is Dinaw Mengestu’s debut novel, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears. Mengestu is an Ethiopian-American author living in Paris. After the book was chosen for Seattle Reads, it received the prestigious Guardian First Book Award.
This year, as we have done in years past, the events planned around Seattle Reads extend beyond the author’s visit and book discussions. There will be a Horn of Africa Cultural Day; a panel discussion echoing the themes in the book entitled “Immigration, Gentrification, and Small Business: A local perspective;” films on Africa; and more.
I am so excited to discuss this book. I had the pleasure and the honor, along with my colleagues, to work on the Reading Group Toolbox, writing discussion questions and writing annotations for fiction further reading suggestions.
Because I could do no better, I am stealing the Library’s description of this spare, elegant book:
“Set in a poor neighborhood in Washington, D.C., The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears tells a story of the African immigrant experience through three main characters: narrator Sepha Stephanos, an Ethiopian immigrant, who runs a small corner grocery store, and his friends, Joseph, from the Congo, and Kenneth, from Kenya. All share nostalgia for their home countries; none has come close to achieving the American dream. When a white academic and her biracial daughter move into the neighborhood and befriend Sepha, tensions build and it becomes clear they are not welcome in the gentrifying neighborhood.
The novel explores themes of race and class relations, what it means to lose family and a country, what it takes to create a new home, what it means to be an immigrant in America. The book’s title comes from Dante’s Inferno, where the poet is about to leave hell, on his way to purgatory, and catches a glimpse of the stars.”