Sunday, July 18, 2010

An Honest Exit

by Dinaw Mengestu

I was very impressed with Mengestu's debut novel The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, and was pleased to see him included in the New Yorker's '20 Under 40' summer fiction project. 

His story, 'An Honest Exit', is narrated by a young Ethiopian teacher at an expensive private school in New York City.  After the death of his father, he is compelled to tell his student his father's story, explaining how he left Ethiopia for Sudan, where he worked until he had enough money to pay for passage to Europe, and eventually, America.

The students become enthralled in this tale, which spreads over many classes and many days.  What they don't realize is that their teacher does not know his father's complete story, and is instead making up most of the details as he goes.  The story, while embellished, carries with it a feeling of authenticity and detail that make it feel real and important to the students, who come from a privileged background. 

I liked this story for a few reasons.  To begin, the writing is sharp and straight forward. I'm quite interested in that part of the world, having worked with many children with roots in the Horn, and I always appreciate insight into that complex and very old place. 

The father's friend, Abrahim, is an interesting character. On the one hand, he is portrayed as generous and kind, but he also has things that he wants from the father, who he is placing all his hopes on.  Theirs is a strange relationship, reaching a level of grudging symbiosis.

Mengestu is a talented writer, who I hope to see more from.  I also liked the illustration at the beginning by Emmanuel Guibert, as I always appreciate it when the New Yorker publishes work by some of my favourite comics artists.

No comments: