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Of Beetles & Angels    by Mawi Asgedom order for
Of Beetles & Angels
by Mawi Asgedom
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2002 (2001)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In this memoir, Selamawi (Mawi) Haileab Asgedom tells the story of his family's epic journey from Ethiopian civil war to an immigrant existence in the United States, via a Sudanese refugee camp. He dedicates the book 'To the true hero of this story, my mother, Tsege' who as a young woman trekked alone with three small children (5, 3 and an infant), fleeing her war-ravaged country ahead of an advancing army.

Though they were in a close community of habesha villagers amongst the refugees, disease was rife and Sudanese soldiers were drafting refugees for their own war against rebel groups. Helped by the World Relief organization, the Asgedom family applied for resettlement in the United States, with the parting words of elders ringing in their ears ... 'America seems sweet on top, like fresh honey straight from the comb. But what's sweet on the surface is often rotten underneath. So beware.'

Indeed the Asgedoms encounters many pitfalls in 'Amerikha' from illness to school violence and family tragedy involving drunk drivers. And the two boys also do their share of 'vandalizing parking meters and terrorizing Halloween baskets'. But early on, their parents emphasized the necessity of hard work in school in order to earn scholarships to university, and they do that too.

Selamawi grows up to love his mother and siblings (especially his brother Tewolde) and to recognize his father as a hero, albeit a 'tragic and flawed' one. He reads 'thousands of pages a week', doesn't give up, and takes to heart the family belief that strangers, though 'disguised as the lowliest of beetles: beggars, vagrants and misfits', might be God's angels and should always be treated kindly.

In his commencement address, the author exhorts his fellows to 'inscribe a little goodness on the hard surface of this world.' His story is an inspiring one, with many examples of how having a 'heart that sees angels' can result in reciprocal help from others when needed. Of Beetles & Angels is well worth the read.

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