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Extended Audio Sample How to Read the Air, by Dinaw Mengestu Click for printable size audiobook cover
3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (1,007 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Dinaw Mengestu Narrator: Corey Allen Publisher: Recorded Books, LLC Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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One early September afternoon, Yosef and Mariam, young Ethiopian immigrants who have spent all but their first year of marriage apart, set off on a road trip from their new home in Peoria, Illinois, to Nashville, Tennessee, in search of a new identity as an American couple. Soon, their son, Jonas, will be born in Illinois.

Thirty years later, Yosef has died, and Jonas needs to make sense of the volatile generational and cultural ties that have forged him. How can he envision his future without knowing what has come before? Leaving behind his marriage and job in New York, Jonas sets out to retrace his mother and father’s trip and weave together a family history that will take him from the war-torn Ethiopia of his parents’ youth to his life in the America of today, a story, real or invented, that holds the possibility of reconciliation and redemption.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “Beautifully written…The book lingers in the mind.” 

    New York Times Book Review

  • “Mengestu draws a haunting psychological portrait of recent immigrants to America, insecure and alienated, striving to fit in while mourning the loss of their cultural heritage and social status. Mengestu’s precise and nuanced prose evokes characters, scenes, and emotions with an invigorating and unparalleled clarity.” 

    Publishers Weekly (starred review)

  • “This is a poetic story, written by young Ethiopian writer who is already being hailed as a literary master.” 


  • “A sometimes somber, always searching novel of love, loss and the immigrant experience by Ethiopia-born writer Mengestu…Elegant, confident prose brings this tale to life.” 

    Kirkus Reviews

  • Selected for the October 2010 Indie Next List
  • A 2010 San Francisco Chronicle Best Book
  • A 2010 New York Times Book Review Notable Book

Listener Opinions

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 by Laura | 2/18/2014

    " Pure, deep poetry. How to Read the Air was my first taste of Mengestu's writing; can't wait for the full course. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 by Rashida | 1/12/2014

    " I think it is clear that Dinaw Mengestu is brilliant and has important things to say about the American experience. But I wonder what expectations were put on him after his stunning debut, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears. Because at all points, this book felt forced. The central story was interesting, but this novel felt like a short story or, at most, novella that had been stretched and tortured into a 350 page novel. That does not make for a pleasant reading experience, and destroys any interest that the central narrative holds. I felt as though there was some force behind Mengestu saying, "you turn such a beautiful phrase, don't stop at one, give me ten!" This magnification of the narrative only served to highlight its issues, so instead of bonding with our narrator over shared feelings of marginalization, I began to pity him his self induced isolation. Instead of sympathizing with the myriad slights of missed social interactions, I sucked my teeth at his continued incompetence. Instead of feeling understanding for the struggles of his mother and father, I resented all of the guesswork and speculation that seemed to just bloat the air that our narrator engaged in while trying to reconstruct their journey. Rendered differently, I think this could have been quite an affecting read. And I remain sure that I will read more from Mengestu, should he supply us with it. But I remain disappointed in this effort. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Linnet | 1/10/2014

    " Jonas reflects on the end of his marriage as he retraces the honeymoon trip his parents made that ended theirs. "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 by Janet | 1/3/2014

    " Disappointing. Bleak and depressing story of two marriages. So unlike his first book in every way. "

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About the Author
Author Dinaw Mengestu

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. He was also named a “20 under 40” writer to watch by the New Yorker. His writing has appeared in the New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Harper’s, Granta, and other publications. He lives with his family in Washington, DC.