Willing Davidson on The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears

Willing Davidson: The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, Dinaw's first novel, is really an extraordinarily accomplished novel for any stage of a writer's career, but especially for a debut novel. In writer's first novels, they often are working out the concerns that are central to all of their work to come, but it's rare that it's in so elegant a package as Dinaw's novel is. It's just a very wonderfully written, subtle–and, again, as I say, elegant novel, which makes it feel the work of someone who's been thinking about and writing and working out the issues in the novel for many years so that it becomes not just a platform for ideas, but an intricate, woven sort of thing that really makes up a great novel.

It's narrated in the first-person. It's narrated by an immigrant from Ethiopia whose last name is Stephanos and he has a very individual story. But he also represents the story of many African immigrants and he also represents the story of immigration as a whole. But he does it in own very particular tale and it's a very measured voice. It's not a voice that tips over into preachiness but it's also a voice that has a solemnity to it—that even as it's a graceful voice you realize it's a voice that should be taken seriously.

Willing Davidson, a fiction editor at The New Yorker, talks about Dinaw Mengestu's debut novel The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears.