All Our Names
In Uganda, two young men get caught up in a revolt against the post-colonial regime in the early 1970s. As the line between idealism and violence becomes increasingly blurred, the friends are driven apart - one of them into the deepest peril. In a quiet town in the American Midwest, an exotic stranger arrives: an exchange student from Africa called Isaac. Helen, the social worker asked to help him settle in, quickly falls for him, though she soon learns to keep their affair hidden from prejudiced eyes. And she soon realises that Isaac is haunted by his mysterious past. Switching back and forth between Africa and America, this taut, searing novel blazes with insights about the physical and emotional geographies that circumscribe our lives. Writing within the tradition of Naipaul, Greene, and Achebe, Mengestu gives us a political novel that is also a transfixing portrait of love and grace, self-determination, and the names we are given and the names we earn.
- Hardback | 264 pages
- 140 x 222 x 25mm | 402g
- 05 Jun 2014
- Hodder & Stoughton General Division
- London, United Kingdom
About Dinaw Mengestu
Dinaw Mengestu was born in Ethiopia in 1978 and raised in Illinois. His first novel, Children of the Revolution (published in the US as The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears), won the Guardian First Book Award in 2007, as well as the Los Angeles Times Book Award and the Prix du Premier Roman Etranger. It was followed by How to Read the Air in 2010. Mengestu's novels have been translated into more than a dozen languages and his fiction and journalism have been published in the New Yorker, Granta, Harper's, Rolling Stone, and the Wall Street Journal. He was chosen for the 5 under 35 Award by the National Book Foundation in 2007 and was one of the New Yorker's 20 under 40 in 2010. In 2012, he was the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Genius Award. He currently lives with his family in New York.
Mengestu's most impressive examination yet of the African diaspora ... Worlds on a cusp, powerfully drawn: notable above all is Mengestu's desperately moving portrait of a compromised friendship. Sunday Telegraph The enigmatic Isaac radiates a sense of quiet purpose that makes him both substantial and immensely appealing. Mengestu's assertion of the claims of the self against the ideologies of tribe, nation or home is all the more powerful for being expressed through paradox: a character who is as comprehensively stripped of personal ephemera as a protagonist can reasonably be. London Review of Books The chronological staggering of the dual strands creates a clever structure: we expect that they are either going to join up right at the end, or become one somewhere before the final pages and carry on as a unified track. In a way, Mengestu deftly does both, playing with readers' expectations and exploiting the gap in knowledge between how much they know and fear and how little Helen does. Independent Deeply moving ... The first few African chapters of this novel have an elegiac quality oddly reminiscent of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited ... there is a similar sense of mourning for a vanished world: in this case, the lost interlude of African hope that flourished between the end of colonialism and the rise of authoritarianism in many countries across the continent. New York Times What's fascinating about All Our Names is the unsettling way it engages with history - both the history of Uganda and literary history. Those with the right knowledge will be able to place this novel in an exact historical context, but that's rather beside the point ... This is a book trying to pull away from fixed dates and places just as Helen's Isaac is trying to locate his sense of self without reference to location or the events of his past ... Already the recipient of a number of awards in the United States, including a MacArthur fellowship, Mengestu is rapidly becoming a writer on the global stage. Guardian Mengestu's writing is elegant and economical, and he has a fine, understated tenderness, especially when handling the love between Helen and Isaac. -- The Times Mengestu's quiet, restrained prose is never more devastating than when he describes wounded refugees being slaughtered by other impoverished villagers amid the chaos unleashed by civil war ... The emotional power of All Our Names seeps through lines that seem placid on the surface. Washington Post A story so straightforward but at the same time so mysterious that you can't turn the pages fast enough, and when you're done, your first impulse is to go back to the beginning and start over ... The victories in this beautiful novel are hard fought and hard won, but won they are, and they are durable. New York Times Book Review What's in a name? Identity of a kind, perhaps, but nothing like stability, and perhaps nothing like truth. So Mengestu ponders in this elegiac, moving novel ... a tale about human universals, in this case the universal longing for justice and our seemingly universal inability to achieve it without becoming unjust ourselves ... Weighted with sorrow and gravitas, another superb story by Mengestu, who is among the best novelists now at work in America. Kirkus Reviews (starred) Mengestu perceptively explores the way that alienation serves as the handmaid of idealism ... His characters never altogether abandon their hope - it survives not in political or social revolt but in the true and moving depictions of love and friendship. Wall Street Journal A beautifully textured and unsettling experience ... We've all seen refugees running from civil wars and malevolence on the news and are inured to some extent. In All Our Names Dinaw opens a window to a different sort of experience. As we get to know the Isaacs we consider the deeper questions about belonging and alienation but we also witness the accompanying fear and haunting memories ... These are images and people who will dwell in our minds for a long time to come. Bookbag Can you even remain the same person after experiencing traumatic events? How does a person cope with massive displacement? Mengestu doesn't have the answers, but the exploration is interesting Emerald Street