In The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu, what themes would you say the book represents?

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durbanville | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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For anyone who has moved continents and even for those who have settled in places far removed from their origins, for whatever reason, The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears resonates meaningfully because in many cases the dream of the future, and in this novel The American Dream, remains at a significant distance, always just out of reach. Sepha has made changes and he has formed friendships but he has then waited for the miracle instead of creating it for himself. Author Dinaw Mengestu has added elements of loss and longing to his novel to increase the understanding that Sepha has failed to reach his potential because sometimes "We just fall into our lives."

It seems that, for Sepha, playing a meaningless game and holding on to his memories is the only way he can feel a connection to his country, Ethiopia. Making light of the effects of dictatorship allows Sepha and his friends to be aware of the problems but no longer involved in them. They feel guilty but also relieved. This is partially what stops Sepha from making a success of his life and from understanding what his dream really is. Therefore, the search for identity and the realization, or not, of The American Dream in terms of that identity is a theme of the book. Although Sepha does have something of a revelation ("I couldn’t believe that my father had died and I had been spared in order to carry luggage in and out of a room") he is held back by his insecurities and by what he thinks he should be striving for. Typical American symbols mean nothing and everything to him.

Trust and the perception of similarities and differences is another theme as Sepha struggles in his friendship with Judith and Naomi. He never really accepts his own worth and so always acts too late and then blames circumstances. Naomi has a Mauritian father and a white mother and her friendship with Sepha serves as a connection between what is and what could be. Sepha may have a chance with Judith, Naomi's mother, but as her presence in his community represents a blessing (urban renewal) and a threat (gentrification and the displacement of the poorer members of this neighborhood who, ironically, cannot afford to keep up), this will never become a reality either. Naomi goes off to boarding school and Judith's ex-husband arrives and so Sepha, once again, cannot make the leap. Any progress he makes is always tempered by the backward direction of his life. 

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