How to Read the Air by Dinaw Mengestu

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Synopsis

From the prizewinning international literary star: the searing and powerful story of one man's search for redemption.

Dinaw Mengestu's first novel, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, earned the young writer comparisons to Bellow, Fitzgerald, and Naipaul, and garnered ecstatic critical praise and awards around the world for its haunting depiction of the immigrant experience. Now Mengestu enriches the themes that defined his debut with a heartbreaking literary masterwork about love, family, and the power of imagination, which confirms his reputation as one of the brightest talents of his generation.

One early September afternoon, Yosef and Mariam, young Ethiopian immigrants who have spent all but their first year of marriage apart, set off on a road trip from their new home in Peoria, Illinois, to Nashville, Tennessee, in search of a new identity as an American couple. Soon, their son, Jonas, will be born in Illinois. Thirty years later, Yosef has died, and Jonas needs to make sense of the volatile generational and cultural ties that have forged him. How can he envision his future without knowing what has come before? Leaving behind his marriage and job in New York, Jonas sets out to retrace his mother and father's trip and weave together a family history that will take him from the war-torn Ethiopia of his parents' youth to his life in the America of today, a story—real or invented—that holds the possibility of reconciliation and redemption.

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About Dinaw Mengestu

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Dinaw Mengestu was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 1978. In 1980, he and his family came to the United States. A graduate of Georgetown University and Columbia University's MFA program in fiction, he lives in New York City.
 
Published October 14, 2010 by Riverhead Books. 320 pages
Genres: History, Literature & Fiction. Fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for How to Read the Air

Kirkus Reviews

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when Jonas tells an interviewer of that fact, Mengestu writes, with gentle but pointed humor, “I could see him wondering if it was possible that there was more than one Peoria in this world, another situated perhaps thousands of miles away from the one he had heard of in the Midwest and therefore...

Nov 01 2010 | Read Full Review of How to Read the Air

The New York Times

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The story is narrated by Jonas Woldemariam, a young Ethiopian-American whose freshly failed marriage to a woman named Angela leads him away from Manhattan.

Oct 08 2010 | Read Full Review of How to Read the Air

The Guardian

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A benumbed young man, failing at work and love, drifts around an American city, mulling over memories of political upheaval in Africa, emigration to the US, and scenes of violence involving his father.

Jan 01 2011 | Read Full Review of How to Read the Air

BC Books

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I personally have known several people who actually live better lives in a country that is not their birth country.

Apr 08 2011 | Read Full Review of How to Read the Air

BC Books

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The thing is, I was first attracted by the idea that this is a novel about immigrant life, and yet it seems that every novel I read about immigration and immigrants talks about tragedy.

Apr 08 2011 | Read Full Review of How to Read the Air

New York Journal of Books

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Throughout the novel, Mengestu proves himself a master storyteller by weaving multiple narratives into a seamless whole: the story of the Woldemarians failing to assimilate, the story of Jonas standing idly by while his marriage falls apart, the story of his journey back down the roads that his p...

Oct 14 2010 | Read Full Review of How to Read the Air

AV Club

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As a vehicle for Mengestu’s meditation on trauma or its inevitable, tragic product, Jonas aims to heal by forcing himself to ask whether his parents would have been better off alone.

Nov 11 2010 | Read Full Review of How to Read the Air

Los Angeles Times

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Jonas takes over whole classes (and Mengestu fills pages of the novel) with the story.

Nov 05 2010 | Read Full Review of How to Read the Air

The Telegraph

The essential gift book for any pet lover - real-life tales of devoted dogs, .

Feb 09 2011 | Read Full Review of How to Read the Air

Oregon Live

When Jonas tells the students about his father's violence-plagued road to freedom, he says one of the things that kept Yosef alive was his ability to read warnings in the air and duck in time to avoid a bullet or a street gang.

Oct 16 2010 | Read Full Review of How to Read the Air

About.com

This is the central theme of the novel in which Jonas and Angela have created a fantasy back story for their lives, lives of "imagined memories."

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MostlyFiction Book Reviews

Family histories are supposed to be riddled with such things, for without them how do we achieve that much-needed catharsis we’re all supposedly longing for?” If there’s one useful outcome that has come out of Jonas Woldermariam’s trying childhood, it is this: Jonas has become an expert at va...

Oct 28 2010 | Read Full Review of How to Read the Air

Bookmarks Magazine

Anne Shulock Critical Summary There is no question that Dinaw Mengestu is an extremely talented young writer, having earned the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction, a New York Times Notable Book mention, and many other accolades for his first novel.

Oct 11 2010 | Read Full Review of How to Read the Air

Oprah.com

"Violence had made and...unmade my world," explains Jonas Woldemariam, the son of Ethiopian immigrants, in Dinaw Mengestu's quiet and beautiful new novel, How to Read the Air.

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Oprah.com

By retracing a honeymoon trip they made from Peoria to Nashville 30 years earlier, he begins to understand the haunting sense of displacement and isolation that has shaped his family, beginning with his father's months-long journey from a jail in Ethiopia to a cargo ship in Sudan, on which he sto...

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Full Stop

Dinaw Mengestu’s second novel, How to Read the Air, is frustratingly hard to get into, despite being the brand new book by a young writer whom many people seem to love.

Jan 17 2011 | Read Full Review of How to Read the Air

The Pacific Northwest Inlander

A description of Yosef’s creeping dementia could stand for the attitude of Mengestu’s characters, who believe “that everything that stands before you is a mere illusion, and that the so-called fabric of life is in fact riddled with gaping holes through which you can fall and still be said to be a...

Dec 08 2010 | Read Full Review of How to Read the Air

The Paris Review

I read an excerpt from David Grossman’s forthcoming novel, To the End of the Land, at The New York Review of Books site.

Nov 17 2016 | Read Full Review of How to Read the Air

The Paris Review

there’s the American literary novel and then there’s the immigrant novel, which is seen as a derivation, and not a natural extension of what someone like Saul Bellow and other American immigrants traditionally have been doing.

Oct 28 2010 | Read Full Review of How to Read the Air

Reader Rating for How to Read the Air
68%

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