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Home Is Not a Country
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Home Is Not a Country
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LONGLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD “Nothing short of magic.” —Elizabeth Acevedo, New York Times bestselling author of The Poet X From the  acclaimed poet featured...
LONGLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD “Nothing short of magic.” —Elizabeth Acevedo, New York Times bestselling author of The Poet X From the  acclaimed poet featured...
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    “Nothing short of magic.” —Elizabeth Acevedo, New York Times bestselling author of The Poet X
    From the  acclaimed poet featured on Forbes Africa’s “30 Under 30” list, this powerful novel-in-verse captures one girl, caught between cultures, on an unexpected journey to face the ephemeral girl she might have been. Woven through with moments of lyrical beauty, this is a tender meditation on family, belonging, and home.

    my mother meant to name me     for her favorite flower
    its sweetness     garlands made     for pretty girls
    i imagine her    yasmeen     bright & alive
    & i ache to have been born her     instead

    Nima wishes she were someone else. She doesn’t feel understood by her mother, who grew up in a different land. She doesn’t feel accepted in her suburban town; yet somehow, she isn't different enough to belong elsewhere. Her best friend, Haitham, is the only person with whom she can truly be herself. Until she can't, and suddenly her only refuge is gone.
    As the ground is pulled out from under her, Nima must grapple with the phantom of a life not chosen—the name her parents meant to give her at birth—Yasmeen. But that other name, that other girl, might be more real than Nima knows.  And the life Nima wishes were someone else's. . . is one she will need to fight for with a fierceness she never knew she possessed.



  • From the cover

    The Airport 

    once when i was small  we packed a shared suitcase

    of bright cotton  floral prints  & something yellow 

    & silken i’d never seen my mother wear 

    & for the trip across the country she wore perfume 

    & her best red beaded scarf  & we clattered 

    into the terminal  my mother  collecting all the light

    a wedding on another coast  its promises 

    of sunlight & gold  & her scattered schoolmates 

    & cousins & faraway friends  all crowded 

    into a rented hall  making it  with color 

    & incense & song  our country 

    & it all shone in my mother’s face


    we approached the counter to check in  the family 

    ahead of ours handed their boarding passes with a grin 

    before the agent turned to us & his smile clicked shut 

    said  check-in is closed  & no 

    there is nothing he can do 

    & no there is no manager to call & please can we leave 

    this counter is now closed


    my mother’s faltering voice  the soft music in her english 

    her welling eyes  her wilting face  her beaded scarf 

    & all she said was please  please  i have a ticket 

    & i’d never seen her so small  english fleeing her mouth 

    & leaving her faltering  frozen  reaching for words 

    that would not come  dabbing at her eyes 

    with the scarf  its red so bright  so festive 

    like it was mocking us


    & all i could do was reach  for the suitcase with one hand 

    her limp arm with the other  & wheel us to the exit 

    & in our slow retreat i heard the last snatches 

    of that man’s joke  his colleague’s barking laugh 

    no way we’re letting 

    mohammed so-and-so near the plane 

    & that’s why we don’t go anywhere  anymore




    my mother is so often sad  so often tired & wants mostly 

    to sit quietly in front of the television  where we watch 

    turkish soap operas dubbed over in arabic   

    their sweeping landscapes & enormous romances 

    until she falls asleep 

    chin pointed into her chest & glasses askew


    on bright days she plays music  pitches her voice high 

    & sings along to all the ones we love  abdel halim 

    & wardi & fairouz  sayed khalifa & oum kalthoum 

    gisma’s open throaty voice & frantic percussion 

    to which mama claps along  tries sometimes to teach me 

    the dances  the body formed like a pigeon’s 

    the chest arced proudly upward  head twisting helixes 

    against the neck  in a surprise to no one i cannot dance 

    but love to watch her  love that she tries anyway 

    to teach me 

    & sometimes  rarely  by some magic  the movement 

    will click fluently into my body  & she’ll ululate &...

About the Author-

  • Safia Elhillo is the author of the poetry collection The January Children, which received the the 2016 Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets and a 2018 Arab American Book Award.

    Sudanese by way of Washington, DC, she holds an MFA from The New School, a Cave Canem Fellowship, and a 2018 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. Safia is a Pushcart Prize nominee, co-winner of the 2015 Brunel International African Poetry Prize, and listed in Forbes Africa's 2018 "30 Under 30." She is a 2019-2021 Stegner Fellow at Stanford University.


  • AudioFile Magazine Author and narrator Safia Elhillo delivers an unflinching performance of this light fantasy told in verse, introduced by narrator Christopher Myers. Nima feels trapped--ostracized by her town yet not accepted by the country her mother comes from. When her friend is hospitalized because of an Islamophobic attack, Nima begins a journey accompanied by a version of herself that never came to be but fights to exist. Together, they explore the choices Nima's mother made that led to the present. Elhillo's narration is consistently paced to support the verse. However, listeners may struggle to differentiate characters in conversation, and some of the story's emotional impact is blunted by her detached tone. A.K.R. � AudioFile 2021, Portland, Maine

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Bahrain, Egypt, Hong Kong, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the Sudan, the Syrian Arab Republic, Tunisia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen


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