All Our Names

by

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All Our Names by Dinaw Mengestu takes place in the 1970s in Uganda at the end of colonialism and at the beginning of the bloody battles for dictatorship. It also takes place a few months later in the mid-west where Isaac has fled the violence of Uganda and arrives as an exchange student. He falls under the care of Helen, a social worker. They begin a difficult romance. It is difficult because Isaac is a black man and Helen is a white woman in the mid-west during the post-civil rights era when laws have changed but attitudes have not. Isaac is also an enigma. He does not share his past or much of who he is. It is told in alternating chapters from two points of view. Helen’s point of view is in the present and Isaac’s is in the past. We need Helen’s story to break up the tedium and violence of Isaac’s story.

The characters were well developed and the story well-written. The descriptions of Uganda and the violence will stay with me. This novel kept my attention but I don’t give it a strong recommendation.

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