Ah yes…best laid plans for a weekly book recommendation. So monthly it is! And to that end, since April is National Poetry Month, I thought that I’d sing the praises of Safia Elhillo’s new story, Home is Not a Country. It would be easy to promote The Hill We Climb, because it was so amazing and inspirational. Recited in the backdrop of a failed insurrection, I got all of the chills and thrills that I should have. That would be a little too easy.
And Elhillo’s epic poem, Home is Not a Country, is anything but easy. Caught against the backdrop of New York City post-9/11, the poem is at its heart, a quest for the search of self. It attacks the time-tested plot line of “who am I, and how do I fit in?” The poem follows Nima, a 15 year old girl in the NYC suburbs. The poem is at equally fantastical and candid. She longs for the home that she never knew in a country that she never lived in. She is haunted by her name and all that it represents…and doesn’t represent. Nima knows that, if she had remained in her mother’s native country, she would have been named Yasmeen. Nima also knows that it was her father’s preferred name for her…if only he hadn’t died protecting her mother.
She looks at herself and is unimpressed; she longs to be like Yasmeen – this never was girl. She longs so much, in fact, that she ultimately turns a ghost of this girl into something more real. It is only by experiencing what happened – and what didn’t happen but perhaps should have – that she is able to find acceptance. Yes, it is significantly a story about mothers and daughters; at the same time, it is also a story about the relationship with one self. How many times have we sat in front of a mirror frowning, being dissatisfied with what we see? How often do we look at friend, neighbors, or acquaintances and think to ourselves, “If only I were more like…”
The quest for acceptance is universal and begins with us and Elhillo explores this journey in brilliant detail with her poetry. Her words elevate, inspire, and in some cases cause us heartbreak. Nevertheless, this is a must read for any enthusiast of words.