I don't know how to begin writing the review of Dinaw Mengestu's novel How to Read the Air. I enjoyed and appreciated some parts of it. I suppose I should just give the requisite synopsis and then give my rant afterward.
This is the tale of Jonas Waldemoriam, the son of Ethiopian immigrants. He lives in New York City and works as an English teacher in an academy. His wife Angela, is a lawyer. And they have marriage problems.
At the same time, this is the tale of Jonas' father, a refugee who escaped Ethiopia and entered Sudan. It tells of his perils working at some port, until he gets a passage to Italy, requests and receive asylum status, and eventually end up in the United States by way of France and England.
And at the same time, this is the tale of Jonas' parents, taking a road trip from somewhere in Illinois to Nashville, since Jonas' father Yosef was a fan of country music and he wanted to see it live. Jonas' mother Mariam is in the car, and there is trouble brewing ahead.
So there's multiple storylines that are somewhat parallel to each other. Every storyline ends in a tragic event: a car accident, a betrayal, a divorce. And basically this novel is simply about tragedy; it is a novel where things start bad and end up worse.
So, given that, I don't think I liked this novel as much as I wanted to. The thing is, I was first attracted by the idea that this is a novel about immigrant life, and yet it seems that every novel I read about immigration and immigrants talks about tragedy. There's always failed relationships, and there's always this general idea that immigrants find it hard to integrate into the society that they find themselves in.