From Dinaw Mengestu, a recipient of the National Book Foundation's 5 under 35 Award, the New Yorker's 20 under 40 Award, and a 2012 MacArthur Foundation genius grant, comes a novel about exile, about the loneliness and fragmentation of lives that straddle countries and histories. All Our Names is the story of a young man who comes of age during an African revolution, drawn from the hushed halls of his university into the intensifying clamor of the streets outside. But as the line between idealism and violence becomes increasingly blurred, and the path of revolution leads to almost certain destruction, he leaves behind his country and friends for America. There, pretending to be an exchange student, he falls in love with a social worker and settles into the routines of small-town life. Yet this idyll is inescapably darkened by the secrets of his past: the acts he committed and the work he left unfinished. Most of all, he is haunted by the charismatic leader who first guided him to revolution and then sacrificed everything to ensure his freedom.
Subtle, intelligent, and quietly devastating, All Our Names is a novel about identity, about the names we are given and the names we earn. The emotional power of Mengestu's work is indelible.
©2014 Dinaw Mengestu (P)2014 Recorded Books
This was a beautifully written, thoughtful book about the very different lives taken for granted by natives of two continents, a troubled region in Africa and a complacent midwestern America. The story follows Isaac, an impoverished African who flees civil war to become a curious, lonely student in Illinois. He is befriended by the equally isolated social worker Helen, and they slowly build a relationship. The best chapters take place in Africa, during the student uprising that inspired Isaac's closest friend. But the most memorable scene takes place in a small-town American luncheonette. Isaac expects little, and in her own way Helen also has muted ambitions. There are many moving moments on both continents. And both narrators are excellent, with the right voices of tenderness and regret. A strongly recommended novel.
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