Over these past few years, we’ve had an embarrassment of riches with respect to cross-generational cross-cultural novels. Not all are immigration novels, but many are. Not all are trauma narratives, but many are. Not all are novels in translation, but many are. I’m sure you can think of many. Each time I read one of these important works, I’m humbled by the care with which the novelist crafts a difficult & deep personal truth. Dalia Azim’s Country of Origin is just such a novel.
Country of Origin begins and ends with women in transition, with women looking to the skies.
In the beginning of the novel (Cairo, 1951), a young woman looks to the skies from the roof of her comparatively luxurious, comparatively safe family home. She sees a city in ruins, a country in turmoil but one that her powerful, politically-savvy father can just navigate. Despite this father’s deliberate plotting & maneuvering, the young woman imagines, seeks, and secures an escape, an independence, a vista of safety & love. Sadly, it is not a permanent one.
By the end of the novel (Colorado, 1984), a young woman looks to the skies from the safety of a mountain preserve, part art project, part insect lab. She sees nature in its beauty & savagery, a landscape that has its hopes and its cruelties. This second young woman—the only child of the first young woman—has endured much: first-gen struggles, neurodivergence, family illnesses, and family losses. Despite all of this, the young woman sees in this mountain vista—one she will soon leave—a series of possibilities. Some of them quite firm, but many of them fleeting.
It’s that kind of novel. Every generation with its hopes, every generation with just enough to survive & testify to the next one.