How to Read the Air
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A "beautifully written"* (New York Times Book Review) novel of redemption by a prize-winning international literary star.
From the acclaimed author of The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears comes a heartbreaking literary masterwork about love, family, and the power of imagination.
Following the death of his father Yosef, Jonas Woldemariam feels compelled to make sense of the volatile generational and cultural ties that have forged him. Leaving behind his marriage and job in New York, he sets out to retrace his mother and father's honeymoon as young Ethiopian immigrants and weave together a family history that will take him from the war-torn country of his parents' youth to a brighter vision of his life in America today. In so doing, he crafts a story- real or invented-that holds the possibility of reconciliation and redemption.
Quiero tener. At night, however, the missing words came back, and he continued to chatter away with the boxes in French, Spanish, Italian, and English—whatever they demanded—picking up the conversation that had begun thirty years earlier when he was a scrawny refugee working in a port in Sudan. He continued to ask the boxes where they were going, and how much they could carry, and most important, whether or not they had room enough for him, drawing on every language and country he had ever known,
Jonas, you were the best. You once scored three goals in a single game.” “How do you know?” “I remember.” “Were you there?” “Of course I was. I was sitting at the top of the bleachers watching you. I always thought you were beautiful in your shorts.” Our inventions, you see, worked both ways, and in whatever false histories I created, there was always room enough for Angela to join me when and if she cared to— “What happened after graduation?” “You picked me up in your father’s car.”
ducks strung by their necks roasting in the restaurant windows. “I’m part vegetarian,” she said. “Which is sort of like saying I’m part white because my grandfather was Irish. It doesn’t really count, and no one but me really believes it.” Over various bowls of shared noodles, we began to divide up our clients between the west side and east side. We split the Africans first since they were the easiest. Benin, Togo, the whole western coast down to Namibia, and even large chunks of northern and
stomach, and the fact that my father has needed glasses for years but has refused to acknowledge it. Almost any one of these on its own should have been enough to tell my father that there was something wrong gradually accumulating weight, the same way a storm sometimes slowly pulls together its forces, calling upon distant clouds to join together before unleashing its fury. Taken all together, the sound of trouble lying ahead should have been nearly deafening to a man who had reportedly spent
of them. She said she was thirty-five.” “And how old was she really? Eighteen, nineteen?” “Twenty, twenty-three tops. I tried to explain to her that it was impossible to use that story. No one, I told her, will believe you. But she kept shaking her head and insisting that everything she said was true. Eight children, she said. Over and over. She even brought along pictures. The oldest one was almost the same age as her. I wanted to tell her to go see you and then come back to me when she was