Media Center: ‘All Our Names’ by Dinaw Mengestu
WHO: Dinaw Mengestu
WHAT: ALL OUR NAMES, a novel
WHEN: Published by Knopf March 6, 2014
WHERE: Set in Uganda and the American Midwest.
WHY: “Dinaw Mengestu is among
the best novelists now at work in America.
“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, his third.
“Himself an immigrant, Mengestu is alert to the nuances of what transplantation and exile can do to the spirit. Certainly so, too, is his protagonist—or, better, one of two protagonists who just happen to share a name, for reasons that soon emerge. One narration is a sequence set in and around Uganda, perhaps in the late 1960s or early 1970s, in a post-independence Africa. But, as in a V.S. Naipaul story, neither the country nor the time matter much in 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.
“The narrator, riding into the place he calls ‘the capital,’ sheds his old identity straightaway: ‘I gave up all the names my parents had given me.’ Isaac, whom he meets on campus, is, like him, a would-be revolutionary, and in that career trajectory lies a sequence of tragedies, from ideological betrayals to acts of murder. The region splintering, their revolution disintegrating, Isaac follows the ever-shifting leader he reveres into the mouth of hell.
“Meanwhile, Isaac—the name now transferred, along with a passport—flees to the snowy Midwest, where he assumes the identity of an exchange student, marked by a curious proclivity for Victorian English: ‘I remember thinking after that first afternoon that I felt like I was talking with someone out of an old English novel,’ says the caseworker, Helen, with whom he will fall in love. Neither Isaac can forget the crimes he has witnessed and committed, and the arc of justice that each seeks includes personal accountability. Redemption is another matter, but both continue the fight, whether in the scrub forest of Africa or at a greasy spoon somewhere along the Mississippi River.
“Weighted with sorrow and gravitas, another superb story by Mengestu.”
—KIRKUS, in a starred review
“He is a talented writer interested in the imaginations,
memories, and interpersonal collisions of African immigrants in the U.S.”
—Brad Driscoll, BOOKLIST
“Mengestu portrays the intersection of cultures
experienced by immigrants with unsettling perception.”
—PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, in a featured and starred review
The first sentence of the book: When Isaac and I first met at the university, we both pretended that the campus and the streets of the capital were as familiar to us as the dirt paths of the rural villages we had grown up and lived in until only a few months earlier, even though neither of us had ever been to a city before and had no idea what it meant to live in such close proximity to so many people whose faces, much less names, we would never know.
About the book | About the author | Author appearances | Download the jacket or the author photo
Publicist for this title: Gabrielle Brooks | 212-572-2152 | firstname.lastname@example.org