Of Beetles and Angels: A Boy’s Remarkable Journey from a Refugee Camp to Harvard by Mawi Asgedom

Of Beetles and Angels cover

Though billed as Asgedom’s own story, Of Beetles and Angels focuses much of its attention on the stories of others. In particular, Asgedom speaks for his brother Tewolde, killed by a drunk driver in his final year of high school, and for his father Haileab, reduced from cherished country doctor in Africa to disabled dependent in the US before being killed by another drunk driver. Although he speaks honestly of both the strengths and the weaknesses of these men, and of the difficult circumstances that his family and other refugee families faced, Asgedom’s memoir is clearly intended above all to be inspirational. The beetle/angel motif runs through the whole of the work, emphasising one central message: it is painful to be treated like a beetle, but every person can make the choice to treat others like angels, and thereby live a meaningful and satisfying life. What the reader sees of Asgedom’s journey is, if anything, the gradual discovery of this empowering truth as he encounters again and again the impact of his father’s and brother’s commitment to honouring others.

Despite its weighty subject matter, Of Beetles and Angels frequently feels a bit idealised. While this (as well as some of their father’s unsettling threats) might be appropriately ascribed to the family’s cultural background, teens may grow impatient with the almost impossibly high standards Asgedom takes for granted. That said, the memoir has a lot to offer readers—perhaps it could be recommended alongside other resources focused on the experiences of refugees immigrating from Sudan to North America.

 Read the Kirkus review or visit Mawi’s blog.

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