Logan Circle then: Hookers and crack. Logan Circle now: Yuppies and Whole Foods. Even a recent D.C. transplant like myself learns that quickly enough. Still, I was happy to come across Dinaw Mengestu‘s fine first novel, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, which at least clarifies the point.

The novel is (roughly) set during the late ’80s and early ’90s in Logan Circle, where an Ethiopian refugee named Sepha Sephanos runs a small market at the (nonexistent) address of 1150 P St. NW. It tracks Sepha’s relationship with Judith, a white woman refurbishing a home there, and her mixed-race daughter, Sophia Naomi. A few relevant passages from the book, with images attached, are below.

Mengestu, an Ethiopian native who used to live in Logan Circle and now lives in New York, reads March 2 at the Lansburgh Olsson’s.

“The house Judith was moving into was a beautiful, tragic wreck of a building and had been for years. A four-story brick mansion, it could have played the role of haunted house in any one of a hundred movies or books….The brick was almost obnoxious in its bright shade of red….The house had been abandoned for more than a decade, occupied briefly over the years by homeless men, crack addicts, and a small band of anarchists from Portland.”


“There are hardly any women left on the circle now. They have vanished not into thin air, but into a different space or reality, as if they had all collectively taken flight and migrated to another climate. Around the circle, the question is still asked, although not as frequently: what happened to all the hos?”


“I come out from behind the counter and stand in front of my store so I can watch them enter the circle and pause in front of General Logan’s statue….They both crane their heads up so they can stare into the raised hoof of Logan’s horse, suspended in midair, waiting to land triumphantly on whoever stands in its path.”


“Just a few months ago there was a liquor store and a Chinese carryout restaurant on the corner, Yum’s Chinese and chicken. It was the first place I ate alone in D.C….I was nineteen, and had been in America for less than forty-eight hours. I remember being asked for spare change every few minutes by the same man, the red neon glare from the 7-Eleven across the street, and the roaming bands of kids who swaggered by. The food tasted like a sweet soy sauce that, whenever I’ve come across it again, instantly brings me back to that corner and night.”