How to Read the Air (Paperback)

By Dinaw Mengestu

Riverhead Books, 9781594485398, 320pp.

Publication Date: October 4, 2011

October 2010 Indie Next List

“This is a remarkable, multi-layered novel about the fictions we create and the lies we tell to fashion our identities for the sake of love and family. Mengestu's prose is beautiful. He tells both a grand-sweeping tale of the African immigrant experience as well as a deeply intimate story, one that illustrates a second-generation American's experience negotiating his footing as he seeks a sense of place.”
— Cindy Dach, Changing Hands Bookstore, Tempe, AZ
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Description

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.



About the Author

Dinaw Mengestu was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 1978. He is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, a fellowship in fiction from the New York Foundation for the Arts and a Lannan Literary Fellowship, and was named a 20 under 40 writer to watch by The New Yorker. Mengestu s writing has appeared in The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Harper s, Granta, and other publications. He lives with his family in Washington, D.C."


Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com

  1. Should Mariam and Yosef have stayed married to each other? Can a relationship survive a long separation?  
  2. Who is more responsible for the failure of Jonas and Angela's marriage, Jonas or Angela? 
  3. Was it wrong of Jonas to lie to the board member? Or was it more wrong of him to invent a story for his students? Do you agree or disagree with the school's handling of his fabrications? 
  4. Do you think reenacting his parents' trip will help Jonas? 
  5. Jonas is mostly estranged from his father before he dies, and mostly estranged from his mother before the end of this novel. Is there ever a reason to cut family members out of your life, or is it better to maintain close relationships whenever possible? 
  6. Given all she had suffered at the hands of Yosef, was Mariam justified in causing the car accident in Missouri? Why or why not? Is there ever an instance in which violence should be answered with violence? How did the violent episodes in Jonas's parents' marriage shape him? 
  7. Why did Jonas lie to Angela about his position at the academy? 
  8. Why does Jonas get so swept away with rewriting the personal statements of the immigrants seeking asylum? In what other ways does he reimagine his world and the world around him? Does this tendency help him cope, or does it hurt him? 
  9. Where do you think Jonas's trip takes him in the end? What kind of future do you see for him?
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