Safia Elhillo’s Home Is Not a Country Is a Tale of a Young Muslim Girl Finding Herself

The novel in verse is the Sudanese poet’s first work of fiction.
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Safia Elhillo's Home Is Not a Country. From @mafiasafia.

Safia Elhillo's Home Is Not a Country. From @mafiasafia.

Safia Elhillo’s novel in verse, Home Is Not a Country, is forthcoming from Make Me A World, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books. It is the Sudanese poet’s first work of fiction.

In a starred review, Kirkus Reviews describes it as one that “movingly unravels themes of belonging, Islamophobia, and the interlocking oppressions thrust upon immigrant women.”

The description from the publisher:

A mesmerizing novel in verse about family, identity, and finding yourself in the most unexpected places–for fans of The Poet XI Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, and Jason Reynolds.

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.

Elizabeth Acevedo, author of The Poet X, has called the book “nothing short of magic,” referring to Elhillo as “one of the best writers of our times.”

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Safia Elhillo by Aris Theotokatos.
Safia Elhillo. Credit: Aris Theotokatos.

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

A co-winner of the 2015 Brunel International African Poetry Prize, she was listed in Forbes Africa’s 2018 “30 Under 30.” She is a 2019-2021 Stegner Fellow at Stanford University.

Home Is Not a Country is set for release on 2 March 2021.

Paula Willie-Okafor
Paula Willie-Okafor is a staff writer at Open Country Mag. She is a student at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where she is custodian of The Writers' Community (TWC). Her writing has appeared in Kissing Dynamite Magazine and Praxis Magazine.
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