By MALCOLM JONES
All three of Dinaw Mengestu’s novels are about people who, for various reasons, come to this country and fashion new lives. But it would be a huge mistake — it would be an insult, in fact — to call him a novelist of “the immigrant experience” or a chronicler of “life on the hyphen” or any of the other shabby, summary clichés deployed to characterize (and too often diminish and even dismiss) authors whose birth certificates identify them as foreign-born. For while questions of race, ethnicity and point of origin do crop up repeatedly in Mengestu’s fiction, they are merely his raw materials, the fuel with which he so artfully — but never didactically — kindles disruptive, disturbing stories exploring the puzzles of identity, place and human connection.
Mengestu began this exploration with his dazzling first novel, “The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears,” and extended it in “How to Read the Air.” Good as they were, those books now look like warm-up acts. For with “All Our Names,” he has grounded his search in a story so straightforward but at the same time so mysterious that you can’t turn the pages fast enough, and when you’re done, your first impulse is to go back to the beginning and start over.