As my Black History Month series draws to a close, I have begun thinking back over the books that I have read. These novels have all been extremely sad and enlightening. I have encouraged you to read them all because they are important novels that should be read. Dinaw Mengestus’s novel, “All Our Names,” is absolutely no exception; this novel was by far my favorite of the four.
The story is told in alternating points of view and follows two different timelines.
Issac’s story is set in Uganda during a time of revolution, fear and an extremely bloody war. His story focuses on the love of friendship, the disaster of war and the lengths that people will go through for each other.
Helen’s story takes place in rural Illinois where segregation is done more out of politeness than requirement. Her story focuses on forbidden love, the pain of understanding more than you ever wanted to know about yourself and it explores more fully the lengths people go through for each other.
They are two separate stories that are inextricably connected by Issac, the main character. A main character you’re not really sure you like, but whose story you have to hear because Mengestus sucks you into this world of love and war.
As you watch Issac and Helen deal with the perils that go with their everyday lives, you begin to realize that love, no matter if it’s romantic or platonic, matters more than what people say, distance or the inevitability of human failure. Their connection is a real connection that I feel many loves can relate to.
I finished this book in about three days, and it only took me that long because I had to go to work and do adult things that really hindered my reading time. Needless to say, I really enjoyed it.
Mengestus has an art for storytelling. It is difficult to tell a story from two different characters, but he does it flawlessly. He drops crumbs of information about events later in the book that draw the reader deeper into the story, forcing them to keep reading because they have to know what happens next.
I won’t lie to you. Occasionally, Issac’s story gets a little slow, but it’s all important and it’ll all makes sense in the end.
If you do not read any of the novels I have talked about in this series, read this one. Mengestus tackles racism, love and loss in such a way that you almost don’t realize he’s doing it, but it really makes you think. And that’s not a bad thing.