Sepha Stephanos owns a newsagent and general store in a rundown Washington, D.C. neighbourhood that is on the verge of gentrification. Seventeen years ago he fled the Ethiopian revolution after his father was killed. His life now is quiet, he spends his days reading Russian classics, serving the few customers he has and every Thursday evening he meets with his two friends, Joseph and Kenneth, drinking whisky and making jokes about Africa’s long line of dictators and revolutions.
When a white woman named Judith moves next door with her mixed-race daughter Naomi, Sepha’s life seems on the verge of change. His fragile relationship with them gives him a painful glimpse into the life he could have lived and for which he still holds out hope.
In an astonishingly assured debut, Dinaw Mengestu writes with powerful understatement of one man’s longing for the American dream, and of the tenacious grip of the past across continents and time.