Elhillo, Safia

Home Is Not a Country

(2) YA Elhillo's strikingly original novel in searingly honest, staccato verse, nearly all in lowercase, showcases the difficult realities of working-class immigrant families. Nima is a sensitive Muslim teenager, daughter of an immigrant mother, whose life is marked by the absence of a father she never knew, of friends (except one), and of belonging and feeling at home. Haunted by "sepia"-tinted memories "of a country i've never seen / outside a photograph," bullied at school, and excluded by her Arabic-speaking peers, she grapples with a series of what-ifs. A "nostalgia monster" hungry for old photographs and retro Arabic music and films, Nima yearns for a different life, one lived in her imagination as her "ghost self," Yasmeen. When her only friend is hospitalized after a hate crime, she goes into a tailspin. In a magical realism sequence, she encounters corporeal Yasmeen and travels through space and time to see her parents together, uncovering truths that help recalibrate her life. While Elhillo's novel draws on her Sudanese heritage, she leaves the family's country of origin unnamed. Her richly imagined settings bring into sharp focus the nuances of a fractured identity in many diasporic communities. An immersive experience of the intersectionality of gender, class, race, religion, and identity.


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