My most recent literary lust has been with “How to Read the Air” by Dinaw Mengestu. I found the book on sale in a local bookstore, and I couldn’t resist buying it, for the cheap price and the incredibly visually appealing cover art.
How great is that cover!?
Although I’ve filled my shelves with piles of novels, poetry and memoirs, this one stuck out in my mind, and instead of sending it to the back of my bedroom’s never-ending queue, I dove into the text immediately.
I wasn’t disappointed. This guy can write. Seriously! Mengestu’s story is simple in it’s conception; a son recalling his own parent’s marital journey while encountering his own current shabby marriage. Jonas, the narrator, is a child of an once-happy couple who emigrated from Africa before he was born. Their struggle in escaping the corruption and violence that faced them in their home countries. That’s only half the story though. Jonas, a struggling social worker searches for meaning in his work, in his wife, and eventually in his parents. And in his parents, he starts to find some answers. His life falls even further into shambles, but his self-actualization is peaking! As a reader, I find it a constant battle between being angry at Jonas and commiserating with him and his woes.
The true gem of this text is the imagination. Mengestu’s ability to create a world inside his narrator’s life is beautiful and rich with imagery. There are created moments and real moments, both ring with truth of every reader’s reality: restlessness, hopelessness, craving for information/something more in life, searching for answers, and imperfect lives. The reason that Mengestu is so successful in his writing is in his ability to capture how beautiful these ugly moments can be, for Jonas and for us.
I’ll be finishing the novel this weekend, with a report next Wednesday about the ending!