As part of the annual Africa Day celebrations taking place in May, Irish Aid is pleased to host the Africa Day Book Club. This year, ‘How to Read the Air’ by Dinaw Mengestu has been chosen as the Africa Day 2013 Book Club book.
Dinaw was born in Ethiopia but is currently based in Washington. The book, published by Riverhead Books, is narrated by Jonas Woldemariam, a young Ethiopian-American whose freshly failed marriage to a woman named Angela leads him away from Manhattan. He hits the road, seeking to understand the one traversed decades ago by his parents, Yosef and Mariam, from eastern Africa to the American Midwest. Jonas unites the disconnected lives of the four characters, weaving his parents’ elusive émigré story into the certainties of his own. In alternating chapters, we see Yosef and Mariam, Jonas and Angela, as couples bearing baggage, literally and metaphorically.
We are encouraging book clubs throughout Ireland to celebrate Africa Day and choose ‘How to Read the Air’ as their May book club choice. In addition to this, a discussion on ‘How to Read the Air’ will be held as part of Irish Aid’s flagship family event ‘Africa Day Dublin’ in Farmleigh on 26th May 2013. Readers are also encouraged to share their thoughts to discuss ‘How to Read the Air’ on our Africa Day Twitter and Facebook pages.
Book Club Discussion Questions (Issued by Riverhead Books)
Warning: May contain spoilers
1. Should Mariam and Yosef have stayed married to each other? Can a relationship survive a long separation?
2. Who is more responsible for the failure of Jonas and Angela’s marriage, Jonas or Angela?
3. Was it wrong of Jonas to lie to the board member? Or was it more wrong of him to invent a story for his students? Do you agree or disagree with the school’s handling of his fabrications?
4. Do you think reenacting his parents’ trip will help Jonas?
5. Jonas is mostly estranged from his father before he dies, and mostly estranged from his mother before the end of this novel. Is there ever a reason to cut family members out of your life, or is it better to maintain close relationships whenever possible?
6. Given all she had suffered at the hands of Yosef, was Mariam justified in causing the car accident in Missouri? Why or why not? Is there ever an instance in which violence should be answered with violence? How did the violent episodes in Jonas’s parents’ marriage shape him?
7. Why did Jonas lie to Angela about his position at the academy?
8. Why does Jonas get so swept away with rewriting the personal statements of the immigrants seeking asylum? In what other ways does he reimagine his world and the world around him? Does this tendency help him cope, or does it hurt him?
9. Where do you think Jonas’s trip takes him in the end? What kind of future do you see for him?