Safia Elhillo’s Home is Not a Country is a novel written in verse. The flowing narrative follows young Nima, a teenage girl who lives in the United States with her immigrant Arabic mother. In the first part of the novel, Nima struggles with typical teenage insecurities. However, she also deals with the unshareable pain of being a Muslim living in America post 9/11.
Nima’s schoolmates often bully her by calling her a “terrorist.” Wishing her father was alive and her family was back in their home country, Nima daydreams about what life could be like if she were born someone else.
She wonders if she could avoid discrimination, humiliation, and isolation if her parents named her Yasmeen, their second choice for their daughter’s name. The second part of the book takes a magical turn as Nima slips into a dream-like state where she is not born yet.
Alongside her is Yasmeen, with a whole different set of life events attached to her name. Nima goes along with Yasmeen to see how different her life could’ve turned out to be. She learns that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side and that her life is uniquely hers.
Safia Elhillo wrote Home is Not a Country as a love letter to the diaspora communities in which she grew up. This novel in verse teaches readers that we are all a product of specific choices that have worked together for our good. Our lives should be cherished and appreciated for what they are.
Home is Not a Country is an important book that highlights a voice not often heard. Young Sudanese American Muslim girls have a unique set of struggles that we do not get the privilege of reading about enough. Safia fixes this issue by providing space for characters like Nima and Yasmeen to exist.
The structure of the book provides an interesting dynamic to the reading experience. Each poetic line beautifully captures the complexities of Nima’s experiences. Raw, enlightening, beautifully tragic, and honest. Home is Not a Country encourages readers to recognize their lives' divine purpose and understand that this is where our true identity rests.
Islamophobia; racism; discrimination; identity; self acceptance; past; present; future; history; homeland
“I imagine her/this other girl/bright and alive/and I ache/to have been born her/instead”
“To my mother/my life/my world where there is room/for me/my world where I have a name/where I am not alone”