The characters in The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestru form two distinct groups. Sepha Stephanos, the main character and narrator, overlaps the two groups that are almost family-like in their interactions. Sepha Stephanos arrived in America seventeen years ago during the Ethiopian Revolution, moving to the small, rundown African-American neighborhood of Logan Circle in Washington, D.C. This is where he establishes a small grocery market.
He befriends an immigrant from the Congo named Joseph Kahangi, and another from Kenya, named Kenneth, who also arrived in America around the same time. The three form a close knit circle based on their commonalities. All are immigrants, refugees, and expatriates who meet in Sepha’s grocery to share a game, stories, and the emotions they feel living away from their families and homelands. Throughout their seventeen years in America, they grow apart, but remain true friends through their visits to the grocery. This group symbolizes the past.
There is another small family-like group in Sepha’s life. Judith McMasterson and her daughter, Naomi, arrive in the same neighborhood. Judith is an affluent white woman in the middle of a divorce while Naomi is her biracial daughter. Judith moves to the Logan Circle neighborhood to restore an old home to its former glory. Sepha’s friendship with the two begins through the daughter, who is allowed to visit the grocery frequently, and the mother is drawn in. This group symbolizes change.