'No memories in our house'

  • October 23, 2010
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Author Dinaw Mengestu

I’m often asked why I write so much about my mother’s experiences. Even though I never directly experienced the trauma, I inherited it.

Journalist and fiction writer Dinaw Mengestu’s new book, How To Read the Air covers the same emotional terrain. A recent New York Times article describes his work as “populated by exiles, refugees, emigres and children of the African diaspora, all struggling both to find a place in the American landscape and to make sense of their attenuated relationship to the world they left behind.”

“We had no memories in our house,” Mr Mengestu said in the NYT interview. “We were never allowed to, we never spent time talking about it, and yet you’re very aware that it haunts everything. It’s that absence that creates the concern for it. Nothing can be passed on.”

“You know there is this history that precedes you, but you have no access to it whatsoever.”

To me, there is a presence of absence and, at the same time, an absence of presence.

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