Born in Addis Ababa in 1978, Dinaw Mengestu moved to the US with his mother and sister when he was two years old to join his father, who had recently fled the communist revolution in Ethiopia. Unsurprisingly, exile is central to his work.
Children of the Revolution (2007), his acclaimed debut, follows an Ethiopian refugee who moves to Washington DC but fails in his efforts to live the American dream. The narrator of his second novel, How to Read the Air (2010), is the struggling son of Ethiopian settlers in New York.
All of our Names
All Our Names, an elegiac and beautifully written new novel, moves back and forth between two narratives, both based in the 1970s: one set in Uganda, at a time when colonialism has given way to a new age of dictatorial regimes across Africa; the other set in a snowy semi-rural town in Midwest America.
The African chapters are narrated by a young (unnamed) Ethiopian eager for reinvention, who leaves his village and crosses the border into Uganda. He hangs out at the university campus and makes friends with Isaac, who is from the slums of Uganda’s capital, Kampala. The narrator is bookish; Isaac is a would-be revolutionary. "This is Africa," Isaac says. "There’s only one thing to study ... Politics. That’s all we have here."
(photo © Julien Chatelin)