Someone Like Us

A novel

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Pub Date Jul 30 2024 | Archive Date Aug 29 2024

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The son of Ethiopian immigrants seeks to understand a hidden family history and uncovers a past colored by unexpected loss, addiction, and the enduring emotional pull toward home.

After abandoning his once-promising career as a journalist in search of a new life in Paris, Mamush meets Hannah—a photographer whose way of seeing the world shows him the possibility of finding not only love but family. Now, five years later, with his marriage to Hannah on the verge of collapse, he returns to the close-knit immigrant Ethiopian community of Washington, DC, that defined his childhood. At its center is Mamush’s stoic, implacable mother, and Samuel, the larger-than-life father figure whose ceaseless charm and humor have always served as a cover for a harder, more troubling truth. But on the same day that Mamush arrives home in Washington, Samuel is found dead in his garage.

With Hannah and their two-year-old son back in Paris, Mamush sets out on an unexpected journey across America in search of answers to questions he'd been told never to ask. As he does so, he begins to understand that perhaps the only chance he has of saving his family and making it back home is to confront not only the unresolved mystery around Samuel’s life and death, but his own troubled memories, and the years spent masking them. Breathtaking, commanding, unforgettable work from one of America’s most prodigiously gifted novelists.
The son of Ethiopian immigrants seeks to understand a hidden family history and uncovers a past colored by unexpected loss, addiction, and the enduring emotional pull toward home.

After abandoning his...

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ISBN 9780385350006
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Featured Reviews

This novel centers on the dense, weaving relationship between our protagonist, Mamush, and his father, Samuel. In its form, the novel has experimental elements that work well with its themes of immigration, disconnection, and loss. The central trope of the taxi cab also becomes formalized, working as a metaphorical and literal vehicle for explaining the relationship between Mamush and Samuel.

The most compelling part of this novel for me was the subtlety with which Mengestu captures the unconventional father-son relationship at the heart of the story. Samuel and Mamush’s mother have a friendship but not a romantic connection, but due to circumstances beyond their control (I won’t spoil this detail) end up conceiving Mamush. His mother does not necessarily want Samuel as the father of her child and Samuel had no intention of becoming a father yet or in this way. Thus, Samuel is not quite situated as Mamush’s father when he is a child, even as it becomes clear, over the course of the book, that the father-son framework for their relationship is ultimately inescapable. What proceeds is a meditation on how the cruelty of the world (war, imperialism, racism) shapes Samuel’s fate (particularly his socioeconomic oppression and struggle with addiction) and his relationship with Mamush. They love one another deeply and yet the articulation of that love is always being suffocated by their environment and history.

This initial father-son dyad is paralleled powerfully by Mamush’s relationship with his own young son, who is waiting at home for him in Paris with his wife, Hannah. We sense that Mamush is struggling to stay with his wife and child due to his own demons, especially how he is haunted by his parents’ traumatic pasts. The book suggests that unraveling Samuel’s life will somehow enable him to move forward with Hannah and his son. In the end, Mengestu gives us hope that Mamush has found his way back to his family—on both sides of the Atlantic.

A moving, brilliant, intricate book, I highly recommend this novel to other readers!

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