"The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears" Book Review

Written by Clare O'Connor and Edited by Daniel O'Connor //

Moving vans drive past a small convenience store, overflowing with shelves of miscellaneous food and other seemingly random items. Shelves bend under the weight of foodstuffs long past their expiration date and forever unwanted wares. Dust cakes the floor under the deteriorating shelves, with particles escaping from their hideout only when the swift feet of a rare customer kicks past, moving the dust but to make way for more. Customers are less and less frequent as the seeming endless procession of moving vans takes more and more customers away, leaving the decrepit store to serve the newly arrived, wealthier residents who don’t have much need for collapsing shelves and their white elephant sale trinkets. As abandoned once-mansions are claimed and refurbished, they seem to rise like the phoenix, but with much more glitter and gleam… and sterility, than before. It is the same latitude and longitude but a different neighborhood — one with no memory of its own past.

The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears explains the refugee experience after immigration and directly parallels this process of starting anew but of losing the past with the process and effects of neighborhood gentrification. The main character, an Ethiopian refugee, owns a small corner store in Washington D.C. As his city loses its cultural identity, the reader also experiences the main character's struggle to maintain his own sense of self as an Ethiopian and as a once-proud immigrant. Throughout the book, he desperately holds onto any identity that might buoy him, clinging to being called an African or a refugee. He is willing to cling on to the conception of being displaced as an identity because it is almost as the only thing that is constant in his life is the upheaval caused by distance and time. The reader is shown how his whole life is affected by his experience as a refugee, how important personal identity is to maintain a robust self-image, and how difficult it is to maintain that sense of self.

The book shows brief romantic encounters, foul language, and sex work. It is not appropriate for young children and uses sharply mature vocabulary. However, for mature audiences (+16), I would highly recommend this book for anyone looking to understand the effects of being a refugee even years after immigration. I especially enjoyed this book as the author lived in my hometown of Oak Park, Illinois, and the neighborhood he writes about, Logan Circle, D.C. was a place where my friends lived when I was a young child in Washington, D.C.. I, myself, have so many memories of place and time that somehow disappear from the map of our collective memory, but stay rooted in my memory. The author’s message hits especially hard since the places I knew share the same geographical coordinates as the places the author knew, but we experienced and remember such places so differently.

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