cover image Someone Like Us

Someone Like Us

Dinaw Mengestu. Knopf, $28 (272p) ISBN 978-0-385-35000-6

In the beautiful latest from Mengestu (All Our Names), a journalist pieces together the mysteries of his early life in the wake of his biological father’s death. The story takes place over three days after Mamush travels from Paris to the Ethiopian community outside Washington, D.C., where he spent the latter half of his childhood. Upon his arrival, he learns from his mother that Samuel, whom Mamush knew growing up as a family friend and later found out was his father, has just been found dead in his garage. The circumstances of Samuel’s death are murky and people are careful about making assumptions, partly due to the taboo nature of suicide in Ethiopian culture. After Mamush pays condolences to Samuel’s wife, he heads to Chicago, where he was born shortly after his mother emigrated from Ethiopia, hoping to find answers about Samuel and his mother’s early relationship. Mamush knows Samuel arrived in Chicago when Mamush was six, with plans to start a network of taxis around the U.S., but instead toiled as a cabbie and became addicted to drugs. From there, the story unfolds like a fairy tale as Mamush imagines the ghost of Samuel telling him how he met Mamush’s mother and why they were never together in the U.S. Mengestu shifts fluidly between fabulism and realism, and the narrative is full of wisdom related to Samuel’s disillusionment with the American dream. Mengestu’s tremendous talents are on full display. Agent: PJ Mark, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (July)