All Our Names
All Our Names
Dinaw Mengestu
Knopf, 2014
272 pp., $25.95

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Catherine Hervey

All Our Names

Whose fault is this?

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Upon reaching America, Isaac finds himself in a world with a tranquil surface that couldn't look more different from what he has just left: the quiet midwestern university town of Laurel. And yet just a few years earlier it looked more like Kampala, its campus seething with protest of the Vietnam War. Helen and her coworkers at the Lutheran Relief Services survive in an atmosphere of crushed idealism; after a while, all suffering begins to look the same. On this side of the globe, too, people are giving up on changing anything.

Into this profound confusion and hopelessness, as he awaits the outcome of a battle that he knows probably shouldn't be fought, Isaac manages to articulate a prayer he feels he can stand on: Have mercy on them all.

Catherine Hervey is a writer in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, where she lives with her husband and daughter.

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