Book Title: Home Is Not A Country
Author: Safia Elhillo
Genre: Young Adult
Publication Date: March 2rd, 2021
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Nima doesn’t feel understood. By her mother, who grew up far away in a different land. By her suburban town, which makes her feel too much like an outsider to fit in and not enough like an outsider to feel like that she belongs somewhere else. At least she has her childhood friend Haitham, with whom she can let her guard down and be herself. Until she doesn’t.
As the ground is pulled out from under her, Nima must grapple with the phantom of a life not chosen, the name her parents didn’t give her at birth: Yasmeen. But that other name, that other girl, might just be more real than Nima knows. And more hungry. And the life Nima has, the one she keeps wishing were someone else’s . . . she might have to fight for it with a fierceness she never knew she had.
DISCLAIMER: An ARC of the book was provided to me by Qamar Blog Tours
and the Penguin Random House as part of a promotional tour. All opinions are my own.
Home Is Not A Country is one of those rare books that actually, truly, unbelievably transports the reader to another world, and in the most impactful way. The visuals, the smells, the everything that is described in this book through Elhillo’s powerful poetry made for a reading experience unlike any other. A lot of people read for escapism because books as a medium are so great for that, but I have to say that this book left me feeling like I had actually left my home and been somewhere else for the time that I was reading. Through this magical effect, this book follows the protagonist Nima as she discovers what culture, family, and home mean to her. Through Nima’s story, the reader gets so much to think about, from how feel belonging to how we take so much for granted. I so very appreciated what this book had to say because it’s one of those books that makes you infinitely grateful for everything you have and overlook.
Elhillo’s poetry was so, so wonderful to read. This book may have just convinced to start reading more books inverse because this story was just so perfect for this medium. The spacing, the figurative language, and everything else just came together so well to make for an important, enjoyable experience.
I thought the book was very well-paced, too. It isn’t super riveting, but not every book has to be. The story goes along at just the right speed, allowing for the thoughtful journey that happens to play out as it should.
One thing that threw me off was that when going into the book, I had no idea it had fantasy aspects. When they started showing up, I was a bit confused. This is more my fault than the book’s, though.
Overall, Home Is Not A Country is an easy 5 stars. A lyrical, nostalgic, breathtaking story about connecting with your culture and family, along with yourself, this is a book that’ll definitely stay with you for a long time after completing it.
*Note: Since the book is inverse, the formatting is a bit difficult to translate to simple quotes, so I made some changes to the formatting.
“I imagine her back home fathered beloved knowing all the songs & all their corresponding dances laughing big & showing all her teeth invited to all the parties called to from across the street by classmates by teachers jewel of the neighborhood & somehow a little taller than me like there are extra bones in her spine like everyone knows her name & i ache to have been born her instead”
“haitham calls me a nostalgia monster & likes to laugh at the dream- brain that takes over mine when i hear the old songs & run my fingers over the old photographs i know the words to the old films & imagine myself gliding in to join the dance glamorous in black & white photographed in sepia frozen in a perfect time”
“Name nima well really it’s نعمة ni’ma mispronounced at school to sound like the middle of the word animal or stretched into a whining neema no letter in english for the snarling sound that centers my name its little growl ع”
“so much of our life feels like sitting at a table set for dozens who will never again arrive
the two of us surrounded by empty chairs my mother is lonely & i am her daughter her only i think that might be why i’m lonely too”
“i miss him too my father though we never met i miss the country that i’ve never seen the cousins & aunts & grandparents i miss the help they could have offered the secrets they knew that i never learned of how to keep her smiling”
“maybe i’m all wrong not because i’ve come to the wrong
country maybe any country on this side of the membrane between worlds isn’t mine”
“do you actually understand how boring it is
waiting to be made possible?”
There are so many more quotes I absolutely loved but they do get a bit into spoiler territory!
NOTE: The Author has created a lovely playlist for the book! I listened to it while I read the book and it really added to my reading experience! Here’s the link: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/3FORBHsYgH91iKbUpNy7DW?si=0f7a523b35d24efb
Add the book on Goodreads and purchase it with these links!
Goodreads: : https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/54416144-home-is-not-a-country
Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0593177053?tag=randohouseinc44263-20
Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/home-is-not-a-country-safia-elhillo/1137251033;jsessionid=95E6216BC0642B4FF7EDFCAB2A726CB9.prodny_store02-atgap07?ean=9780593177051
SAFIA ELHILLO is the author of The January Children (University of Nebraska Press, 2017), which received the Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets and an Arab American Book Award, and Girls That Never Die (forthcoming from One World/Random House 2021). 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 (receiving a special mention for the
2016 Pushcart Prize), co-winner of the 2015 Brunel International African Poetry Prize, and listed in Forbes Africa’s 2018 “30 Under 30. Safia’s work appears in POETRY Magazine, Callaloo, and The Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-day series, among others, and in anthologies including The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop and The Penguin Book of Migration Literature. Her work has been translated into several languages, and commissioned by Under Armour, Cuyana, and the Bavarian State Ballet.
With Fatimah Asghar, she is co-editor of the anthology Halal If You Hear Me (Haymarket Books, 2019). She is currently a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University and lives in Oakland.
Instagram: Safia Elhillo • صافية الحلو (@safiamafia)
Twitter: Safia Elhillo (@mafiasafia) / Twitter
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