47 pages 1 hour read

Dinaw Mengestu

The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2007

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Displacement and Dispossession

The themes of dispossession and displacement follow Sepha throughout this story. At 16, Sepha leaves Ethiopia, crosses many borders, and eventually arrives in America to live with an uncle he hardly knows. His sense of displacement is exacerbated by the events surrounding his departure and his status as a refugee, not an immigrant. Whereas many immigrants choose and mandate the circumstances of their departure, Sepha was pushed out as a result of violence, fear, and dispossession. Despite the efforts of his uncle, he is unable to acclimate to the life he helps him build with a job at the hotel and community college classes. He self-selects his second displacement within Washington, DC, and heads to the neighborhood of Logan Circle. In this community, he sees similarities to his hometown of Addis, and it feels familiar. According to Sepha, the real reason he chose to open a store in a poor, neglected area of the city is so that he will have plenty of time and solitude to read books, allowing him to perpetuate his displacement rather than acclimate.

The store allows Sepha to live between two worlds (Africa and America) without fully engaging with either one.