All Our Names by Dinai Mengestu

A story that takes place in two times, two continents, two realities. Two stories, really, that join. Vaguely.

One is set in Africa, somewhere hazy. The city is never named, and for good reason – it is not a historical account but a more general tale of something that could have happened or, better, that could be happening. It’s told by Isaac, one of the two Isaacs of the book. This story happens before the second one, although in the book one chapter is given to each, independently of their when.

The second story is set in the US, and it’s told by a young american girl called Helen. She meets Isaac, and starts a long mental journey that takes her to places she’s never thought of going. Isaac is there, recently disembarked from a plane with a sparkling new passport.

all our names book review

Now, let’s cut to the chase: I didn’t like it.

Not only because basically nothing happens during the whole book.

Not only because the things that do happen are not surprising.

Not only because things don’t happen – there are no twists, no turns, no cliff hangers.

But, also and more importantly, because I didn’t like the characters. Isaac is trying to be something he’s not and doesn’t succeed. When he arrives in the US, he does random things, voices illogical concepts and is simply and unnecessarily mysterious. He disappears as a character and pulls the whole story down the drain with him. Helen is a boring, two-dimensional person who says she’s lost when she’s actually not, creates problems that aren’t there and acts as no real person would.

I’m really sorry, but try as I might I didn’t appreciate the book as I should have. Maybe I read it during the wrong period or maybe it’s not my kind of book, but no. I didn’t like it and I cannot recommend it.

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