by Dinaw Mengestu
How to Read the Air is the parallel story of two marriages as the participants struggle to connect with each other and find truth in themselves. One couple, Yosef & Mariam, are immigrants from Ethiopia who embark on a road trip from their home in Illinois to Nashville. The trip highlights the fragility of their relationship and their inability (and unwillingness) to make it right. The other couple that the novel depicts are Jonas (Yosef & Mariam’s son, still an embryo on the aforementioned trip) and his wife Angela. While they are a modern couple living in New York City, they are faced with the some of the same issues to overcome as Jonas’ parents.
As someone who lives a relatively solo existence, the novel’s depiction of “aloneness” and loneliness really resonated with me. Each person really kept a lot of themselves silent and secret and were unwilling to open up to their partner about who they truly were and what they were thinking. Then I heard an interview with the author about the theme of “home” in the immigrant experience and that made me think more about the book. None of the characters ever really felt at home with each other or with themselves.
This was the most literary thing I’ve read in awhile and after reading all those quick romances it was difficult for me to connect to this story at first. But when I did finally, I thoroughly enjoyed it. And I love that even a week after reading it, I’m still thinking about it and contemplating its meaning.