Dinaw Mengestu

How to Read the Air (Riverhead, $25.95) comprises two road trips 30 years apart. The first is that undertaken by a newly reunited young Ethiopian couple traveling across the Midwest, possibly headed toward a happy married life together, possibly not. The second is that of their grown son, newly separated from his wife, who’s retracing their route and reconstructing their marriage. Jonas, our narrator, soon divulges that he’s an embellisher—fond of adding details and drama to accounts he finds lacking. This is Dinaw Mengestu’s second novel, and like The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, it has certain lonely, melancholy, exile’s voice to it. Even though Jonas is American-born, he seems estranged from everyone, aloof, lost in history and memory (and in literature, which he teaches at a prep school). As the miles add up on his odometer, we have growing reason to distrust Jonas’ “inevitable role as both advocate and judge over what happened between my parents during that trip.” His role is also that of author to the story of his parents’ unraveling. Rewriting one journey gives Jonas the control he lacks in his own. BRIAN MILLER

Mon., Oct. 18, 7 p.m., 2010

 
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