Sepha Stephanos is the narrator and protagonist in Children of the Revolution, Dinaw Mengestu’s immigration tale. It is a quiet exploration of an Ethiopian migrant who finds himself in between two worlds – Ethiopia, the home he left seventeen years ago and the world he now inhabits, Washington D.C. He is caught in no-man’s-land as the pain of the past is evenly matched by the despondency of the present wrapped by the dashed hopes that filled his early days in America.
It is not only the two worlds that are in conflict in Sepha’s universe. The neighbourhood where Sepha lives in Washington D.C. is also in conflict as he observes the gradual but certain gentrification of the area where he lives and owns an almost moribund grocery shop that mirrors his almost hopeless existence in the America of his dream. He is not the only one whose dreams are dashed. His friends, Joe the Congolese and Kenneth the Kenyan are also disillusioned with the American dream as Sepha is but unlike Sepha, they find ways of motivating themselves to keep up hope. Whether it is by dressing the part or talking the part, Joe and Kenneth find ways to keep the flame of being part of the American dream alive. Sepha is just drifting through.
In Judith his neighbour and her daughter Naomi, Sepha finds a relationship to distract him from the mundanity of his daily living but even in that, his battered self-confidence gets in the way and he is unable to nurture a relationship as an equal. Children of the Revolution is a decent debut. The writing is crisp and sparse but that is about all (which is quite a lot though) it has going for it. The plot is thin, flat and light, all in one. Also, the storyline is chopping and disjointed making the character development hugely uneven.