I had lost too much of the heart and all the faith needed to stay afloat in a job where every human encounter felt like an anvil strung around my neck just when I thought I was nearing the shore. – from All Our Names –
Isaac is a young black man living in Uganda in the 1970s during the cruel reign of Idi Amin. He is a man with dreams of revolution and freedom, a man whose charisma draws others to him.
Helen is a white social worker living in the Mid-West and is assigned to help Isaac acclimate to a new life in the United States – a challenge given the underpinnings of racism and intolerance still rife within her community.
Neither Isaac nor Helen are prepared when their relationship moves from formality into intimacy. Passionate, secretive and ultimately life-changing, the connection between Helen and Isaac fuels the narrative of a man struggling to come to grips with his identity in the aftermath of terror.
All Our Names is a compelling story that is haunting in its truths, but also in its secrets. Who is Isaac? What has brought him thousands of miles from his home in Africa to the relative safety of the United States?
As the novel moves back and forth from Helen’s point of view to Isaac’s, and from the past to the present, it becomes clear that a man’s name does not reveal who he is, nor what his future holds. Helen struggles to understand her feelings for this man of secrets, and she begins to challenge the unspoken taboo against mixed-race couples.
The fact that we chose to sit there and linger when every part of me wanted to run was proof of the sacrifices we were willing to make. When we left the restaurant and were back in the car, he said to me, “Now you know. This is how they break you, slowly, in pieces.” – From All Our Names –
All Our Names is about the history of a conflicted nation during a time of great unrest, but it is also about the importance of family and our connections with others. Dinaw Mengestu takes the reader into the slums of Kampala and into the hearts of men who refuse to accept tyranny, even when it means they may lose everything. And in lyrical prose he shows how those hearts can be healed through the power of love.
I listened to this novel which was narrated by Saskia Maarleveld (as Helen) and Korey Jackson (as Isaac). Although it began slowly for me, the narration pulled me into the story and left me breathless at the end.
FTC Disclosure: I received this book through the Library Thing Early Review Program.