Children of the Revolution

Issue section: 
(316)

Dinaw Mengestu, Jonathan Cape, £12.99

Sepha Stephano is a man caught between two existences, the one he left behind aged 19, the Ethiopian Revolution of the 1970s that had claimed the life of his father, and the new life he finds in Washington DC where he joins the large group of Ethiopian and other African refugees.

Sepha comes from a very privileged upbringing in Addis Ababa where his father was a lawyer, used to being driven around town in his black sedan in the days before Ethiopian leader Haile Selassie was ousted and the Derg regime, socialist in name and totalitarian and military in fact, was installed.

As a child, Sepha would long to travel in the jam-packed buses that he watched as he swept by in his father's limo. In Washington he at last travels on crowded buses but finds himself as alone and disconnected as before.

Although Dinaw Mengestu has lived in the US from the age of two, this is largely the tale of what happened to his own family. He has managed to write an insightful tale of the disconnection and loneliness of immigrants torn between their old and new lives.

Time passes and most Tuesdays Sepha meets up with his two friends, Joseph from Congo and Kenneth from Kenya, drinking and trying to make sense of the Africa they left behind 17 years ago and the Washington they find themselves in.

This book is gripping in an unexpected way and I was caught up in the fate of Sepha, his dreams and disappointments. In this, Mengestu's first novel, he wryly and unsentimentally gives a vivid picture of immigrants torn between bitter nostalgia for the countries they have left and the realisation that it is unlikely that they will ever wish to return to them.