Safia Elhillo’s Home is Not a Country is a novel in verse with beautiful poems about Nima, her mama, her baba she has never seen, and the better and beautiful version of herself.
She opens with talking about the photographs in a lifetime before her and when her parents were not yet parents. She knows about her father through the photographs everywhere in their house including the one in her mama’s wallet.
Her verse captivates in narrating her life in suburban America, the land still foreign to her mama, her only friend Haitham, her school, Arabic classes.
Her name is supposed to be ‘Yasmeen’ not ‘Nima’ which means grace. And she believes she is not a graceful girl quite contrary to her name.
She echoes her mama’s grief over the loss of her father and a lost world where she would be happier.
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
When she is bullied and called a terrorist, she questions mama: ‘why did you bring us here? they hate us’ and spills the desire to have her baba or someone to protect her, a common notion shared by all immigrant children about their parent’s decision to migrate leaving homeland.
Elhillo’s poetry elegantly captures how the questions about where we come from can take over our life. It’s a portrait of perspective, which holds up a mirror to show that ultimately, we are telling our own stories, and we can choose to see them differently.
Home Is Not a Country by Safia Elhillo. Make Me a World, March 2021.
Reviewer bio: Padmaja Reddy, originally from India, lives in Connecticut. She received an MA in English Literature from SK University. Former journalist and she published poetry and book reviews in various publications like Yale Review of Books, NewPages.
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