The borders of friendship
Dinaw Mengestu’s The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears (2007) and Teju Cole’s Open City (2011)
in The politics of male friendship in contemporary American fiction
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This chapter broadens the book’s focus by examining recent American fictions of African migration by Dinaw Mengestu and Teju Cole, and extends the study’s intellectual scope by connecting male friendship to cognate discourses of cosmopolitanism and globalisation. The chapter begins by taking up the themes of race relations, gentrification, and local community explored in Chapter 3, analysing Mengestu’s spare 2007 narrative The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears. The chapter demonstrates how Mengestu’s fiction eschews the conventions of the so-called literary migrant novel, revising the genre’s tropes of cultural loss and historical trauma, while recasting familiar motifs of social mobility and cross-cultural exchange. Turning to Teju Cole’s Open City (2011), the chapter draws on the work of Hannah Arendt to chart Cole’s vexed portrayal of cosmopolitanism, in which attempts at association and solidarity, whether forged locally or globally, seem always to falter when faced with the problem of cultural difference. For both Mengestu and Cole, the friendships at the centre of their narratives become a key site for exploring the problems of identity and belonging confronting their immigrant narrators, and thus offer a crucial reworking of the politics of male friendship explored in earlier chapters.

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