The following review is from The Happy Nappy Bookseller. Please check out her blog for more reviews, especially of diverse children's and YA novels.
How to Read the Air by Dinaw Mengestu
This is Mengestu's second novel. His debut The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears was very well received, with much critical praise. It was also one of my favorite novels of 2007.
Jonas Woldemariam was the first person in his family born in the United States. His parents are from Ethiopia. Jonas didn't have great relationship with them. Now in his 30's Jonas decides to retrace his parents life in America beginning with a road trip.
In his verison Jonas imagines a better outcome for his parents. He dreams for them if only for a moment. Mengestu's writing throughout was gorgeous though it was in these moments that I was completely wowed and found myself rereading passages.
The novel alternates between Jonas' story of his parents, his life and failed marriage. Jonas lives in New York. He meets his wife Angela working at a refugee resettlement center, while punching up (the sadder the better) immigrants' stories in hopes of getting them American citizenship.
Thanks to the book synopsis I knew Jonas got divorced. The author put so much care into Jonas relationship, I still found myself hoping for a different outcome. Though their marriage didn't last, at times Jonas and Angela reminded me of George and Coco from Mama Day by Gloria Naylor. I loved Mama Day and the portrayal of George and Coco, so this is not a comparison I would make lightly.
How to Read the Air is a beautifully layered story. Mengestu is a very talented writer and should not be missed. I can definitely [see] this novel on a few best of lists at the end of the year.
Mengestu talks, in this video, about How to Read the Air. For more, see The New York Times review of How to Read the Air.