47 pages 1 hour read

Dinaw Mengestu

The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2007

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Symbols & Motifs

Beautiful Things

The title of the novel comes from Dante’s Inferno, where he describes his emergence from hell into the bright world that awaits: “Through a round aperture I saw appear / Some of the beautiful things that Heaven bears / Where we came forth, and once more saw the stars” (99). The passage evokes a sense of hope and optimism for Joseph, who aspires to write his own poetry about the history of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Other characters in the novel also notice unexpected “beautiful things.” The characters employ the adjective “beautiful” to describe and appreciate the remarkable and often undervalued beauty of “things” in their daily lives. Sepha tells Kenneth his newly acquired used car is “beautiful,” and he describes Judith’s wreck of a house as “beautiful.” Sepha also refers to Joseph and Naomi as “beautiful,” and uses the same adjective to describe himself, Joseph, and Kenneth in their early immigrant days. When Judith uses the word to describe Sepha’s outfit for attending his relative’s wedding, Sepha makes note: “’What a beautiful garment.’ Her use of the word “garment” struck me most—it was polite, almost formal, as if the word had been inserted into her sentence at the last possible moment out of an instinctive sense of cultural diplomacy” (17).