Columbia University School of the Arts Writing Program alumnus Dinaw Mengestu's ('05SOA) second novel, "How to Read the Air," will be available October 14 from Riverhead Books. Mengestu will have a reading, Q and A, and book signing at Barnes & Nobles Tribeca (97 Warren Street at Greenwich) in New York on the 14th at 7 p.m.
The novel follows Jonas, an Ethiopian-American, as he walks away from his life and wife in New York City and seeks to retrace the progress of his immigrant parents, who came from Addis Ababa to the American South. (Jonas’ father’s journey—he traveled out of Ethiopia in a crate on board a freighter—was detailed in a gripping excerpt in The New Yorker, which named Mengestu, along with four other School of the Arts faculty and alumni, among its “20 under 40” in summer 2010.) The novel details both the struggles of the immigrant and the emotional reckoning faced by the next generation.
Publishers Weekly gave "How to Read the Air" a starred review: "Mengestu stunningly illuminates the immigrant experience across two generations. Jonas Woldemariam's parents, near strangers when they marry in violence-torn Ethiopia, spend most of the early years of their marriage separated, eventually reuniting in America, but their ensuing life together devolves into a mutual hatred that forces a contentious divorce. Three decades later, Jonas, himself moving toward a divorce, retraces his parents' fateful honeymoon road trip from Peoria, Ill., to Nashville in an attempt to understand an upbringing that turned him into a man who has "gone numb as a tactical strategy" and become a fluent and inveterate liar--a skill that comes in handy at his job at an immigration agency, where he embellishes African immigrants' stories so that they might be granted asylum. Mengestu draws a haunting psychological portrait of recent immigrants to America, insecure and alienated, striving to fit in while mourning the loss of their cultural heritage and social status. Mengestu's precise and nuanced prose evokes characters, scenes, and emotions with an invigorating and unparalleled clarity."
Dinaw Mengestu’s debut novel "The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears" was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year in 2007, and received the 2007 Prix du Premier Meilleur Roman Etranger, 2007 Guardian First Book Award, and 2008 Los Angeles Times Book Prize.