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In her dedication Safia Elhillo writes, “The January Children are the generation born in Sudan under British occupation, where children were assigned birth years by height, all given the birth date January 1.” What follows is a deeply personal collection of poems that describe the experience of navigating the postcolonial world as a stranger in one’s own land. The January C In her dedication Safia Elhillo writes, “The January Children are the generation born in Sudan under British occupation, where children were assigned birth years by height, all given the birth date January 1.” What follows is a deeply personal collection of poems that describe the experience of navigating the postcolonial world as a stranger in one’s own land. The January Children depicts displacement and longing while also questioning accepted truths about geography, history, nationhood, and home. The poems mythologize family histories until they break open, using them to explore aspects of Sudan’s history of colonial occupation, dictatorship, and diaspora. Several of the poems speak to the late Egyptian singer Abdelhalim Hafez, who addressed many of his songs to the asmarani—an Arabic term of endearment for a brown-skinned or dark-skinned person. Elhillo explores Arabness and Africanness and the tensions generated by a hyphenated identity in those two worlds. No longer content to accept manmade borders, Elhillo navigates a new and reimagined world. Maintaining a sense of wonder in multiple landscapes and mindscapes of perpetually shifting values, she leads the reader through a postcolonial narrative that is equally terrifying and tender, melancholy and defiant.


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In her dedication Safia Elhillo writes, “The January Children are the generation born in Sudan under British occupation, where children were assigned birth years by height, all given the birth date January 1.” What follows is a deeply personal collection of poems that describe the experience of navigating the postcolonial world as a stranger in one’s own land. The January C In her dedication Safia Elhillo writes, “The January Children are the generation born in Sudan under British occupation, where children were assigned birth years by height, all given the birth date January 1.” What follows is a deeply personal collection of poems that describe the experience of navigating the postcolonial world as a stranger in one’s own land. The January Children depicts displacement and longing while also questioning accepted truths about geography, history, nationhood, and home. The poems mythologize family histories until they break open, using them to explore aspects of Sudan’s history of colonial occupation, dictatorship, and diaspora. Several of the poems speak to the late Egyptian singer Abdelhalim Hafez, who addressed many of his songs to the asmarani—an Arabic term of endearment for a brown-skinned or dark-skinned person. Elhillo explores Arabness and Africanness and the tensions generated by a hyphenated identity in those two worlds. No longer content to accept manmade borders, Elhillo navigates a new and reimagined world. Maintaining a sense of wonder in multiple landscapes and mindscapes of perpetually shifting values, she leads the reader through a postcolonial narrative that is equally terrifying and tender, melancholy and defiant.

30 review for The January Children

  1. 5 out of 5

    leynes

    Reread (November 2020): Upon my reread, I decided to lower my rating to 3.5 stars. I still think that The January Children is a terrific poetry collection (that is better than most, btw) but it was somewhat harder for me personally to connect with the poems the second time around. Over the past two years, I read lots of different poetry collections and I think my taste has shifted somewhat to the more direct and cut-throat style (à la Danez Smith) as opposed to the more lyrical and metaphorical Reread (November 2020): Upon my reread, I decided to lower my rating to 3.5 stars. I still think that The January Children is a terrific poetry collection (that is better than most, btw) but it was somewhat harder for me personally to connect with the poems the second time around. Over the past two years, I read lots of different poetry collections and I think my taste has shifted somewhat to the more direct and cut-throat style (à la Danez Smith) as opposed to the more lyrical and metaphorical style of Safia Elhillo. My favorite poems this time around were: "vocabulary" (it's still the most clever! I love the play with the double meaning of words and the complications of navigating between two languages that are vastly different), "second date" (which was surprising to me because this poem didn't stand out to me at all the first time around but now I relate to it so much because I also have a hard time to "undressing" and letting people see my inner feelings), "republic of the Sudan ministry of interior passport & immigration general directorate alien from sudanese origin passcard" (first of all, wow, what a title ... I'm not in love with the whole poem but the last two lines always make a chill run down my spines: "& last time i was home a soldier stopped the car / asked where i was from laughed when i said here") and "the part i keep forgetting" (I love the structure of the poem [the first part being the set up and the second part bringing the harsh reality in] and how relatable it is: I also often forget how privileged I am being in Germany and that I'm not in the midst of all the horrible things I so often worry about. It's hard to keep a distance when it's your own family and friends but it's important to remember your own positioning in the grand scheme of things. // "but the part i keep forgetting / is that i am at the jazz museum in harlem & i am hearing these stories / secondhand & i am hearing / the stories in english on television / & i am spared the smell i am cutting & pomegranates in my pretty kitchen / & my fingers are sweet red"). EDIT (April 2019): Safia is in Berlin this weekend for African Book Festival and I am going to see her tomorrow and so I thought I would start rereading her amazing poetry collection. Just thought I'd let ya know. K? Byeeee. Original Review (July 2018): I read The January Children over the course of three days. It’s a collection of 52 poems, mind you, usually I would have read it in thirty minutes—but Safia didn’t allow that. I needed to take my time, I even scribbled one drawing per poem into my copy because her words inspired me, to create something myself, to try something new, to let my thoughts wander, to think, to reflect. It is very rare for me to completely click with a poetry collection, there’s usually a lot of white noise and only some rare sparks of brilliancy; with Safia it was exactly the other way around: I almost enjoyed all of her poems, there were just a handful that I found unnecessary as they were repetitions of earlier poems wrapped in different words, apart from them, I was in love from beginning to end. This collection of poetry was recommended to me by Shamina in 2017. I am somehow glad that it took me so long to finally pick it up, as I truly feel I read it at the right time in my life; a time during which I am reflecting a lot on my racial identity as well as where I belong, which spaces I am allowed to inhabit, who considers me as “other”, who considers me as “same”. A lot of Safia’s words rang very true to me and I am in awe that she managed to express herself so clearly. I love poetry that is easily accessible, I love it when I immediately feel like I “get it”, without the poetry feeling cheap and contrived. Safia chose her words very carefully, whether it be English or Arabic, everything fell effortlessly into place. Her train of thought runs smoothly throughout this collection. I never felt lost as a reader. I felt home. The “January Children” are the generation born in Sudan under British occupation, where children were assigned birth years by height, all given the birth date January 1. At the beginning, Safia quotes Adonis: “How many centuries deep is your wound?” A question that contains a lot of pain and suffering for Black people, looking back at your ancestors, your grandmothers, your parents, there is a lot of trauma and hardship infused in your blood line. You cannot quite manage to completely shake yourself free from it, as you are one of its products. To feel alienated from your “own” people (whatever that means) and the place you were born, the place you have grown up in, is a nasty feeling, I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone. But sometimes it’s hard to feel like you truly belong when the society you live in has carved out no space for you. With the weight of the hopes and dreams and expectations of your parents on your shoulders who came to this country so that you would have a better life, I sometimes feel like I was set up to fail. How am I possibly going to meet all of those conflicting expectations? How can I be a “good” German and a “good” Women of Color and a good Cameroonian when all concepts seem to contradict one another. there’s a saying about women who cannot remember their homes how they love to mourn what does not belong to them Safia is talking with an accent about home, she’s a lost girl full of all the wrong language, /stupid girl, atlantic got your tongue/, how can she reclaim what isn’t hers? Or is it? Safia doesn’t have the answers, but she has all the questions, she is full of them. What has distance done to her? /& last time i was home a soldier stopped the car asked where I was from laughed when i said here/ The January Children is an incredibly personal collection, Safia writes with a vulnerability that is deeply engaging. There’s no escaping her words, I had to take all of them in, deal with how they affected me. I am very thankful that this collection exists. We need more writers to be brutally honest about themselves, even if they are not sure of who they are and where they are meant to be in the world.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Whitney Atkinson

    4.5 stars WOW. I'm at the point of reading poetry where most of it is forgettable, but I anticipate this will be one that lingers with me. So many powerful moments about being black, about feeling stranded between different cultures, and navigating memories vs. reality. Touching, but made me tearful. Definitely a stand-out collection I've read all year. 4.5 stars WOW. I'm at the point of reading poetry where most of it is forgettable, but I anticipate this will be one that lingers with me. So many powerful moments about being black, about feeling stranded between different cultures, and navigating memories vs. reality. Touching, but made me tearful. Definitely a stand-out collection I've read all year.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Alaa Bit Hashim

    “It is not presumptuous of me to declare that what we have here in The January Children is the first sound of what will be a remarkable noise in African poetry. Safia Elhillo has already laid out in this collection a complex foundation for a rich and ambitious body of work. What is unmistakable is her authority as a poet- she writes with great control and economy, but also with a vulnerability that is deeply engaging. Above all, her poems are filled with delight- a quality of humor that is never “It is not presumptuous of me to declare that what we have here in The January Children is the first sound of what will be a remarkable noise in African poetry. Safia Elhillo has already laid out in this collection a complex foundation for a rich and ambitious body of work. What is unmistakable is her authority as a poet- she writes with great control and economy, but also with a vulnerability that is deeply engaging. Above all, her poems are filled with delight- a quality of humor that is never trite but always honest and insightful.” -Kwame Dawes Poet Kwame Dawes presents a comprehensive and extensive forward in the beginning that readers can use as a guide while reading Safia’s poetry, it also provides context to the relationship with the late Abdel Halim Hafez, the iconic Egyptian Singer who is at the center of a number of Safia’s poems in this mesmerizing collection. Hence, the forward here, is an essential part of this book. Safia’s poetry in this collection takes us back in time, to the days of [I came from a sudan that had gardens & magnolia flowers], just before “all the alcohol in Khartoum was poured into the nile”, tell us about when “police arrive/ rip lanterns from trees/ & fire a shot”, and fills our hearts with nostalgia, pain and grief when she reminds us of our aunts in sudan with “their men lost or upstairs sleeping or done to America to look for work”… Safia puts into rhythmical, well-articulated words the agony, the heartache and the confusion of a whole generation from second-generation immigrants, Diaspora millennials, and daughters who ask “did our mothers invent loneliness or did make them out mothers”… Safia’s book is not only about our generation, the millennials, but also about the generation of Abdel Halim Hafez, the ones who found themselves in his heartbroken voice, who loved themselves because he loved the brown in them, the ones who passed on their loneliness, and their heartbreaks to their daughters.. Safia’s book is about the “fourteen brown/ nightingales diving/ in the name of/ a communal beloved” “The January Children” is not only about romance and Abdel halim “we learned love from a dead man/ you understand my problem”, and it is definitely not only about the history of distress and misery in post 1989 Sudan “Above all, the story of Sudan/is the record of a fight against/ nature” “& dalia’s been arrested & yousif’s been arrested sudan broke my mother’s heart”, it is about all shapes, colors and scents of love, angst, hope, millennials, family, police brutality, lost countries, oceans crossed, music, lyrics and words diluted, Arabic, English, languages mixed in a girl belonging to two, no three nations, belonging, this, is a book about the melancholy of belonging and not belonging. “here I am little dagger ready/ to make a home in your shirt pocket/ answer me answer me” 'Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.' And that is exactly what The January Children would do to the reader, it is a collection of poetry that takes your breath away, and leave you speechless and immersed in an ocean of emotions. Powerful, personal and heartfelt as it should be, this book is a must for both poetry readers and those who are not into poetry. “I guess I see the parallel i am brown like her i am always halfway gone like her i’m not as cruel but I have tried it’s just like the lyric says i cant sing but it goes طمنوني الأسمراني عملة ايه الغربة فيه reassure me how is the browngirl what has distance done to her” Personal Note/thoughts: Speaking on more personal an intimate level, I must admit that it has taken me more than a week to read this book, because after 2-3 poems I fall into tears and sobs, because my heart is still breaking over Sudan [sudan broke my mother’s heart], it did the same to me. Different stories, circumstances, and diverse causes but the agony is the same. I haven't been back home in 4 years because I am too weak to face my pain, and this book took me back there, to where I am running from. I have loved Abdel halim since I was 9 or 10, my mother taught me to love him, or maybe I inherited his love from her. She spoke in his accent, that's how she was raised and taught in the British Colonialism and then Nimeiry days, which she spoke of all the time , my mother was a January child and I miss her, like I miss Sudan. “& in my mouth what exactly i am not named in the very first language i call Arabic my mother tongue & mourn only that orphaning i mime i name nubia & hear only what I cannot speak i point to my body point to a pyramid & point to a spot on the map & what is left is only water”

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    "& what is a country but the drawing of a line" I first encountered the poet Safia Elhillo when I read New-Generation African Poets: A Chapbook Box Set, where my favorite was What I Learned in the Fire, which must be listened to. So I jumped at this collection of her poetry, her first! Another reason is that Safia is Sudanese-American, so her background and themes fit nicely with my Africa 2016 reading project. She says herself that she is from nowhere, or at least that must be how it feels. H "& what is a country but the drawing of a line" I first encountered the poet Safia Elhillo when I read New-Generation African Poets: A Chapbook Box Set, where my favorite was What I Learned in the Fire, which must be listened to. So I jumped at this collection of her poetry, her first! Another reason is that Safia is Sudanese-American, so her background and themes fit nicely with my Africa 2016 reading project. She says herself that she is from nowhere, or at least that must be how it feels. Highlights: asmarani makes prayer "...a border-shaped wound will be licked clean...." vocabulary (this one must be seen because it combines Arabic words with English.. for now listen to her read it) Another poem, untitled, is in the video above. When she performs them, she threads them together like a larger story, which is amazing. There is a series of poems about her mother in a former version of Sudan, beautiful. "did our mothers invent loneliness or did it make them our mothers were we fathered by silence or just looking to explain away this quiet..." to make use of water (another one to hear, a slightly different version is here) Powerful, moving, personal... this is what I always want poetry to be. (Thanks to the publisher for granting me early access via NetGalley)

  5. 5 out of 5

    Darkowaa

    !!! https://africanbookaddict.com/2017/02... Reading the Forward by Kwame Dawes is imperative if you want to understand and appreciate this collection lol. Thank you to Netgalley via University of Nebraska Press for the e-ARC. !!! https://africanbookaddict.com/2017/02... Reading the Forward by Kwame Dawes is imperative if you want to understand and appreciate this collection lol. Thank you to Netgalley via University of Nebraska Press for the e-ARC.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jeimy

    Not what I look for in a poetry collection in terms of form, but I love the themes of colonization, diaspora, and the issues of identity these states create in the author.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jess

    this book is incredible in everything it handles and invites the reader into as it arcs and explores. my relationship to language and to the double-edged sword of culture and history will not be the same since reading the january children. very grateful for safia elhillo's writing. !!!!!!!! thx this book is incredible in everything it handles and invites the reader into as it arcs and explores. my relationship to language and to the double-edged sword of culture and history will not be the same since reading the january children. very grateful for safia elhillo's writing. !!!!!!!! thx

  8. 4 out of 5

    sara

    this collection makes me want to remove all the 5-stars from every other book i’ve ever read just so this alone stands out and shines, as it deserves, and every child of any diaspora feels compelled to read it: a review

  9. 5 out of 5

    Rayyan

    I occasionally go to a local poetry slam/open mic type of thing at a lounge nearby on Wednesdays, and on one of the random nights I decided to attend, Safia Elhillo was the featured poet. I hadn't heard of her before, hadn't researched her prior to attending, and hadn't even checked who would be performing. After the open mic portion, she came up and read a collection of selected works. As soon as she said a word in Arabic I teared up because I. am. so. here. for WoC especially MUSLIM WoC honing I occasionally go to a local poetry slam/open mic type of thing at a lounge nearby on Wednesdays, and on one of the random nights I decided to attend, Safia Elhillo was the featured poet. I hadn't heard of her before, hadn't researched her prior to attending, and hadn't even checked who would be performing. After the open mic portion, she came up and read a collection of selected works. As soon as she said a word in Arabic I teared up because I. am. so. here. for WoC especially MUSLIM WoC honing their craft and speaking up. As she went on I found my self straight up crying because her work is beautiful and quirky and thought-provoking and so so important all at the same time. I immediately went home and ordered The January Children on Amazon and followed her on all her social media. I've read this book several times, and I have it sitting on my coffee table to go back to certain pieces often and to show random people who come to my apartment bits of her work (including my dad who does not care for poetry at all and is in no way sentimental; and he loved it).

  10. 5 out of 5

    Ify

    “Poetry is a political act because it involves telling the truth.” June Jordan. The January Children is full of personal truths about identity, about rifts, about sense of place and about language. I loved learning about Elhillo's history, the appeal and racial politics Abdelhalim and his music, and engaging with her unwavering questions about who she is and how she is perceived in the world. The poet disregards punctuations and structures her poems in unique ways so it might be tempting to dism “Poetry is a political act because it involves telling the truth.” June Jordan. The January Children is full of personal truths about identity, about rifts, about sense of place and about language. I loved learning about Elhillo's history, the appeal and racial politics Abdelhalim and his music, and engaging with her unwavering questions about who she is and how she is perceived in the world. The poet disregards punctuations and structures her poems in unique ways so it might be tempting to dismiss this book. But I would caution against it because the poems themselves are striking.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jherane Patmore

    After listening to her perform excerpts at Calabash I had to get this book and I read it all in one sitting. It's beautiful, powerful and magnetic. After listening to her perform excerpts at Calabash I had to get this book and I read it all in one sitting. It's beautiful, powerful and magnetic.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Lady H

    I am neither a poet nor a particularly frequent reader of poetry, so I can't say that this review will be too incisive. What can I say about The January Children? First, it is beautiful, and it feels like home. Unlike Safia, I am neither black nor Sudanese, but I am Egyptian, the daughter of immigrants, and the themes of colonialism and diaspora resonated with me. Safia talks about the similarities that bind Egyptians and Sudanese and Nubians and the frequent racism and colorism that pulls us ap I am neither a poet nor a particularly frequent reader of poetry, so I can't say that this review will be too incisive. What can I say about The January Children? First, it is beautiful, and it feels like home. Unlike Safia, I am neither black nor Sudanese, but I am Egyptian, the daughter of immigrants, and the themes of colonialism and diaspora resonated with me. Safia talks about the similarities that bind Egyptians and Sudanese and Nubians and the frequent racism and colorism that pulls us apart. She also spends a great many poems talking about Abdelhalim Hafez, probably the most popular and beloved Egyptian singer of all time. My childhood is so infused with memories of Abdelhalim Hafez that it was impossible not to feel that glow of nostalgia whenever he was brought up. And now here is where I show that I am really not a poet: I didn't really...get the placement of everything? The way the lines were broken up, the way the poems were structured, only confused me. I'm not sure I really "got" everything the way I was meant to. I think the peculiar form of the poetry is what stopped me from really truly loving it. This collection definitely deserves a second read, however; it's a lot richer and denser than it may seem at first glance.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Glenda

    Reading Sofia Elhillo’s “The January Children” I thought about the ways poetry captures both personal and collective memory. These poems mythologize the experience of being from Sudan under colonial rule and immigrating to a country where memory remains real. Elhilo captures this in code-switching, fragmented thoughts, and ethereal language. “& in my mouth what exactly / i am nor named in the very first language....i mime....& hear only what i cannot speak...” These haunting poems are a searchin Reading Sofia Elhillo’s “The January Children” I thought about the ways poetry captures both personal and collective memory. These poems mythologize the experience of being from Sudan under colonial rule and immigrating to a country where memory remains real. Elhilo captures this in code-switching, fragmented thoughts, and ethereal language. “& in my mouth what exactly / i am nor named in the very first language....i mime....& hear only what i cannot speak...” These haunting poems are a searching for place and name. They give voice to the generation of Sudanese born under colonial rule who are all five January 1 as a birth date.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Amy Smith

    A powerful book of poems by a Sudanese poet living in the US, exploring themes of place, home, identity, and the repercussions of injustice and displacement brought about by colonialism. Elhillo’s use of Arabic throughout the book reinforces the themes she explores by reminding readers that translation is a constant and deliberate action. Highly recommend also reading the foreword by Kwame Dawes.

  15. 4 out of 5

    BookishDubai

    " i get my languages mixed up i look for answers in what is only music i heard the lyric about a lost girl i thought you meant me" So many beautiful poems. You can't help but fall in love with the Sudan that Safia writes about. " i get my languages mixed up i look for answers in what is only music i heard the lyric about a lost girl i thought you meant me" So many beautiful poems. You can't help but fall in love with the Sudan that Safia writes about.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Maggie Gordon

    Haunting and lyrical, Elhillo writes for Sudanese people of the diaspora. As such, not all of her words were easy to understand, but that's because these poems were not for me. I still enjoyed their beauty and the glimpse at lives unlike my own. Haunting and lyrical, Elhillo writes for Sudanese people of the diaspora. As such, not all of her words were easy to understand, but that's because these poems were not for me. I still enjoyed their beauty and the glimpse at lives unlike my own.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Preston Stell

    This was an interesting read. At times, it reminded me a bit of stream of consciousness writing. The words were beautiful and each phrase was great, but the bouncing around got a bit confusing and I’m sure it was meant to be like this.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Samantha

    This is a really fantastic collection centering on the British occupation of Sudan, about the navigation of borders and postcolonial space upon returning to a home one no longer recognizes or feels at home in.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Xeni

    I finished this one a few weeks ago but forgot to mark it here. Damn, this is good poetry. This collection really opened my eyes to the complex identity of Sudanese people in the Arab world and western countries. I can’t wait to read more poetry by Safia. She has a beautiful voice, and I loved how intimate, personal, and diverse every poem was. Highly recommend!!!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Capucine

    Some of the best contemporary poetry I’ve read, she’s amazing, I’ve cried so many times!!!!! go check out her spoken word on YouTube as well it’s even better with her voice

  21. 4 out of 5

    Aude Odeh

    I really wanted to like this book more. It intrigued me by being a mix of cultures. However for me, it fell flat. It didn't speak to me like I hoped. Maybe my expectations were too high. I'll have to go back to this book later and reevaluate. I really wanted to like this book more. It intrigued me by being a mix of cultures. However for me, it fell flat. It didn't speak to me like I hoped. Maybe my expectations were too high. I'll have to go back to this book later and reevaluate.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Salam Almahi

    * First Reading: Wow this hit home. (pun intended?) I was going to add here all the quotes that shook me. But then I realized I'd be copying the whole book if I attempted so. Instead I'll link a spoken poetry performance of Elhillo, and if you connect with that- you'll love the book: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dh5wS... * Second Reading: This book is phenomenal. It was an experience to read. It's definitely one of my all time favorites! I have so much to say, about the importance of representati * First Reading: Wow this hit home. (pun intended?) I was going to add here all the quotes that shook me. But then I realized I'd be copying the whole book if I attempted so. Instead I'll link a spoken poetry performance of Elhillo, and if you connect with that- you'll love the book: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dh5wS... * Second Reading: This book is phenomenal. It was an experience to read. It's definitely one of my all time favorites! I have so much to say, about the importance of representation and seeing yourself in a poem. I'll be writing a full review with pictures and everything later.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Noura

    When it's beautiful it's almost ethereal. When it's beautiful it's almost ethereal.

  24. 4 out of 5

    lahraeb

    absolutely enthralling & engaging, elhillo never fails to amaze me. this is a spectacular collection, & something i suggest to anyone whenever friends ask me for recommendations. i love elhillo's work primarily because i love the lyricism & whimsical nature of her words...i don't know, something just stirs up inside me when i read her poetry! it's very poignant. i'd argue that - although definitely beneficial & important to know of - you don't necessarily have to know about or understand the his absolutely enthralling & engaging, elhillo never fails to amaze me. this is a spectacular collection, & something i suggest to anyone whenever friends ask me for recommendations. i love elhillo's work primarily because i love the lyricism & whimsical nature of her words...i don't know, something just stirs up inside me when i read her poetry! it's very poignant. i'd argue that - although definitely beneficial & important to know of - you don't necessarily have to know about or understand the history of sudan or whatever else she references (like abdelhalim hafez) for it to provoke a reaction. she seems to pen a universal notion despite majorly discussing a limited geographical area...for example, things like 'did our mothers invent loneliness or did it make them our mothers?' - this pinpoints a very important pinnacle of the human condition, & the whole book is standout pit-stop in all our journeys in the search of the yearning to become.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jess M

    To anyone who feels estranged from their homeland, their identity, and feels the pressure and consequences of sacrificing culture for a seemingly “better life,” you should read this book. We watch the author balance her Sudanese culture with her American one and navigate a world that claims her foreigner in every corner. I learned so much about Sudan from this book. One critique I have is that it does get repetitive but maybe I just don’t understand the significance of certain repeating figures To anyone who feels estranged from their homeland, their identity, and feels the pressure and consequences of sacrificing culture for a seemingly “better life,” you should read this book. We watch the author balance her Sudanese culture with her American one and navigate a world that claims her foreigner in every corner. I learned so much about Sudan from this book. One critique I have is that it does get repetitive but maybe I just don’t understand the significance of certain repeating figures because I am not Sudanese myself. This was made with her people in mind and perhaps only they will understand the parts of these poems I don’t, and that is a beautiful thing which should be honored in poetry more often, our ability to respect the things we will never understand and to not retaliate simply because we cannot relate to it.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Peyton

    “The January Children” is part of the African Poetry Book Series. Elhillo writes about her life. She was born in America, but still identifies as belonging to both Sudan and Egypt. “The January Children” depicts her struggles with identity and questioning belonging and the meaning of home. The poems are very moving and show the reality of Elhillo’s life and the history of the countries. The title is a direct reference to a part of the history of Sudan when it was under British occupation. “The J “The January Children” is part of the African Poetry Book Series. Elhillo writes about her life. She was born in America, but still identifies as belonging to both Sudan and Egypt. “The January Children” depicts her struggles with identity and questioning belonging and the meaning of home. The poems are very moving and show the reality of Elhillo’s life and the history of the countries. The title is a direct reference to a part of the history of Sudan when it was under British occupation. “The January Children” is written mostly in English, but has some Arabic words in it. Elhillo provides a translation for more of the Arabic words. It is a beautiful collection from a darker time and a unique life.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Will

    Oooo this collection! I knew that I would like Elhillo's work since other poets are constantly shouting her out but there's nothing like having no idea what you are getting yourself into and diving in! In The January Children, Safia Elhillo writes about growing up a 3rd culture kid, experiencing colorism in Sudan and America, and her family. Elhillo gets into this through repeated forms--the life of Egyptian crooner Abdelhalim Hafez and explorations of Arabic to English translations. I'm left re Oooo this collection! I knew that I would like Elhillo's work since other poets are constantly shouting her out but there's nothing like having no idea what you are getting yourself into and diving in! In The January Children, Safia Elhillo writes about growing up a 3rd culture kid, experiencing colorism in Sudan and America, and her family. Elhillo gets into this through repeated forms--the life of Egyptian crooner Abdelhalim Hafez and explorations of Arabic to English translations. I'm left reeling with her investigations of what makes a home, Sudanese history, and how the two are so very intertwined. Can't wait to read more from her!

  28. 4 out of 5

    Anatoly Molotkov

    "...those swaying eighties nights in the garden/ before it turned to dust before the old country crumbled/ & mama came here to give me the blue passport/ & last time i was home a soldier stopped the car/ asked where i was from laughed when i said here" - Safia Elhillo's penetrating investigation of cultural and corporeal identity sheds light on the immigrant experience and exposes the reader to the particular injustices of Sudan, and the universal horrors and challenges of being an individual in "...those swaying eighties nights in the garden/ before it turned to dust before the old country crumbled/ & mama came here to give me the blue passport/ & last time i was home a soldier stopped the car/ asked where i was from laughed when i said here" - Safia Elhillo's penetrating investigation of cultural and corporeal identity sheds light on the immigrant experience and exposes the reader to the particular injustices of Sudan, and the universal horrors and challenges of being an individual in society.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Alison

    Begins highly personal and grows into the story of the people and soul of Sudan, and the challenge of your identity being tied to an invented country. Especially worth reading if you've studied Egyptian history/Arabic, as it presents a perspective on Nubian culture / Sudanese culture that the more currently powerful Egyptian culture does not present when you learn about Abu Simbel, Aswan Dam, etc - the perspective of people whose land was flooded to create Lake Nasser and who live off of the ver Begins highly personal and grows into the story of the people and soul of Sudan, and the challenge of your identity being tied to an invented country. Especially worth reading if you've studied Egyptian history/Arabic, as it presents a perspective on Nubian culture / Sudanese culture that the more currently powerful Egyptian culture does not present when you learn about Abu Simbel, Aswan Dam, etc - the perspective of people whose land was flooded to create Lake Nasser and who live off of the very water that in many ways erased them.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Alex Echevarria

    By noted slam poet Safia Elhillo, The January Children is an exploration of home, of belonging, of the past you never lived save through others. The language is incantatory, full of the dolor of being between two worlds, or of the dolor of survivor's guilt. It's of a child of immigrants, who yearns to straddle two worlds, and belong to them both, but will ever only do so imperfectly. It is, finally, a collection of poems about that most imperfect thing: freedom. By noted slam poet Safia Elhillo, The January Children is an exploration of home, of belonging, of the past you never lived save through others. The language is incantatory, full of the dolor of being between two worlds, or of the dolor of survivor's guilt. It's of a child of immigrants, who yearns to straddle two worlds, and belong to them both, but will ever only do so imperfectly. It is, finally, a collection of poems about that most imperfect thing: freedom.

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