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The January Children

4.58  ·  Rating details ·  269 ratings  ·  52 reviews
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
Paperback, 72 pages
Published March 1st 2017 by University of Nebraska Press (first published 2017)
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4.58  · 
Rating details
 ·  269 ratings  ·  52 reviews

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Whitney Atkinson
Aug 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
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.
Jul 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
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 so ...more
Alaa Bit Hashim
Apr 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
“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 ...more
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
Apr 24, 2017 rated it liked it
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.
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.
Dec 14, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: arc

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.

Nov 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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.


Apr 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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
lady victoriana
Jun 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2017
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
Maggie Gordon
Feb 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
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.
Apr 18, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry, read-women
" 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.
Dec 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This was so glorious and now I desperately need a copy of my own that I can underline and and scribble notes and odes in.
May 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poc-poets, poetry, race
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.
Salam Almahi
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:
Aude Odeh
Feb 14, 2017 rated it liked it
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.
When it's beautiful it's almost ethereal.
Jan 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
The book was a quick read but by no means shallow. Deep reflections on Diaspora, Race, Home/Belonging, Postcolonialism and Orientalism. What I appreciated most was her refreshing honesty and vulnerability. Look at Beyoncé as a contrast. She is definitely not honest and vulnerable, despite her effort in "Lemonade" to make people think she is. The difference is this: When Beyoncé yearns to be someone or something else, whether it be the Virgin Mary, Frida Kahlo, Botticelli's Venus, or Michael Jack ...more
Dec 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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 un
Sep 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Anatoly Molotkov
Jul 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"...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 indiv ...more
Alex Echevarria
Sep 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2017
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.
Feb 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, w
One of the best collections I’ve read in years. I think I’ve mentioned before how much I love it when poetry collections have a real sense of internal cohesion and don’t merely feel as though they’re the best poems the author happened to have at the time. This is such a beautiful and well-constructed book. The poems are stunning, and they fit together into a wonderful and vivid landscape. One of my all-time favorite collections, incredibly well written and well crafted.
Jan 27, 2018 rated it liked it
I didn’t know what to expect from The January Children, but I kind of knew that I wouldn’t like it. Why? I can’t quite figure that out. Perhaps as a Sudanese girl of similar age, I feel like have a story or two to tell, but will never get the chance. Perhaps I absolutely hate the idea that someone who never lived in Sudan wants to tell me how to be Sudanese. Perhaps I’m just a hater, and haters gonna hate.
This book is really really good, but I am realizing (in my new reading poetry thing) that I don't really enjoy poetry collections that have some sort of...concept (?) to tie everything together. I just like poems. I'm glad this had a long introduction because it warmed me up to the concept poems slightly and made me get it more than I would have if I'd just jumped in.
Massoud Hayoun
Dec 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is honestly one of the nicest belongings I have.

I just found out about Goodreads -- I know I'm late to the game. I had to write here that literally every poem in this book cuts so deeply, not just because of the subject matter which is so dear to my heart, but because there are things here that are so true, universally. Elhillo is absolutely a master. That she is writing in my lifetime is a privilege.

Occasionally, listening to Stevie Nicks, I think how clever it is that her persona is a w
Tasneem Ebrahim
Jul 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Safia throws the lines and quietly leaves. Ends the line, ends the page, ends the poem. But the lines resonate; the meanings explode behind her as she walks calmly, steadily, away.
The way Safia braids Arabic with English in her poems is absolutely breathtaking.
She is, simply, stunning.
Fred Daly
Dec 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I'm trying not to give too many 5's, but I feel this collection deserves it. I love the way she keeps coming back to certain themes; in a way the whole book is one poem. I shared a couple of excerpts with my students, who were able to generate excellent discussions.
JAnn Bowers
Sep 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book of poetry is one I will keep in my kindle to reread on those rainy days and nights. This poetry is lyrical, beautifully pen and the kind that touches every corner of your heart.

I received this book through NetGalley for an honest review.
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“verily everything that is lost will be given a name & will not come back but will live forever” 3 likes
“I want him to know I am not lonely, I have ghosts, I have my illnesses, I have a mouthful of half-languages, & blood thick with medications, doctors line up to hear my crooked heart” 1 likes
More quotes…