The January Children

The January Children

The January Children

The January Children


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.


Kwame Dawes

There is in Safia Elhillo’s January Children a mythic enterprise rooted in historical and political fact that reminds us inevitably of Salman Rushdie’s project in Midnight’s Children, where he inscribes into the imagination a sense of nationalism that is fundamentally an act of assertive imagining. For Elhillo, the January Children of Sudan, those she describes as belonging to the “generation born in Sudan under British occupation…. all given the birth date January 1,” mark the transition from two traumas— that of colonialism and that of the postcolonial struggle for a sense of identity and place. But they are a people, a coherent body that can be traced, critiqued, celebrated, and, importantly, imagined. An act of erasure, thus becomes a source of the imaginative act of regeneration:

Verily everything that is lost will be
given a name & will not come back
but will live forever

(“asmarani makes prayer”)

But where a novel might engage this subject from a distance, this collection of poems immediately avoids that. Elhillo is writing within the lyric tradition that is giving shape to a new African poetics that finds a way to engage the traditional lyric while not losing sight of a poetics that could be . . .

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