READ IT BECAUSE: It will Break Your Heart. And it's the Great African Novel.
As I read through the final pages of the novel and watched the final paragraphs fade away my heart began to ache and break because I didn’t want to let the characters go. And then I focused and slowly read through the final line. I won’t ruin it for you but that line—oh that line—it will break your heart.
All Our Names is a novel that the world should read—it’s the type of story for which all the cliques like “one for the ages,” and a “timeless classic,” are written. It is befitting of the categorization “The Great African Novel” as Mengestu writes beautiful rich prose capturing spiraling love stories that appear destined for heartbreak.
Set during the struggle for post-independence power in Uganda, Names follows an Ethiopian transplant seeking an identity in Kampala as a youth and later in the civil rights era midwestern USA. The stories--told in parallel--unravel (or re-ravel) the complex relationship between love, loss, war and forgetting. Throughout it all one has the pleasure of reading Mengestu's insightful descriptions--the following concerning the nature of colonial influence is particularly apt:
‘When will you people learn?’ he said. ‘Do you enjoy killing each other?’ “I admit I had had the same thought before. I saw many people killed, as if it were nothing. I thought at times that our lives were worthless, but, hearing Henry, I knew that we were both wrong. No one needs to learn how to kill, but it took the foreigners who came to Africa to show us that it meant nothing to do so. Henry’s friend Joseph had many people killed before he died. I think now he had only done what the British had taught him.
These types of novels are the texture that makes the historical books and political science articles stick in one's memory--they add a depth of insight and of humanity that is all too often missing from the classroom.
*One of my Reading Around the Continent books--the full list is here.
See our 2016, 2015 and 2014 Reading Lists.
NPR Dinaw Mengestu Embraces The Vastness Of Love And War (includes podcast)
WaPo Book review: ‘All Our Names,’ by Dinaw Mengestu
NYT Cultural Exchange ‘All Our Names,’ by Dinaw Mengestu