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Origin: A Novel Hardcover – June 17, 2007

4.0 out of 5 stars 48 customer reviews

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Intrusion: A Novel
A loving couple, grieving the loss of their son, finds their marriage in free fall when a beautiful, long-lost acquaintance inserts herself into their lives. Learn More
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Known for her books on Arab-American themes, Crescent, Arabian Jazz, and The Language of Baklava, Abu-Jaber makes a departure here, into a whole new world of mystery, alienation and unanswered questions. Lena Dawson is a fingerprint expert in Syracuse, New York, at the time that SIDS is, unaccountably, on the rise. When cribs start showing up in the evidence lab, everyone is uncomfortable, Lena more than anyone. She doesn't believe in coincidence; she thinks that there is a serial baby-killer loose.

Lena doesn't know where she came from. Her foster parents tell her only so much, and her mother keeps insisting that their loving presence should be enough for her. Why didn't they ever adopt her? Lena asks the question over and over again, to no avail. Her earliest memories are of a rain forest, an ape mother, fur and leaves and a canopy of trees...was she really raised by apes until she was found by humans and put in foster care?

Abu-Jaber has done a masterful job of keeping the suspense going right to the very end. The story is compulsively readable; once you start, you can't stop until you find out what the real story is. Lena's origin has something to do with the crib deaths, but what is it? How could they possibly be connected? With the help of a detective who is more than a friend and an understanding boss and his wife, Lena pursues the question relentlessly, at her own peril. She could be the next victim.

Lena also has an ex-husband who is well-meaning most of the time, but really is a certifiable jerk, colleagues who are gossipy backbiters and a goofy neighbor, just to up the ante in this absolutely original (no pun intended) story of identity. Lena is socially inept, reclusive and possessed of an uncanny sense of smell and an intuitive approach to every question. Her character dominates the book, and as she uncovers more and more about herself, her personality opens up and, by story's end, she is becoming what she was meant to be. A departure for Abu-Jaber; a treat for readers. --Valerie Ryan

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Abu-Jaber, who dealt with Arab-American themes in her earlier novels, Crescent and Arabian Jazz, shows her versatility in this gripping contemporary thriller. A spike in the number of local SIDS deaths piques the interest of Lena Dawson, a fingerprint specialist at a Syracuse, N.Y., forensics lab. Is it a statistical fluke or is there a killer at work? Determined to account for the dead infants, Lena joins the investigation, which stirs tantalizing memories from her dimly recollected early childhood. Despite her fragile mental state, Lena proves capable of surprising resolve. Her relationship with her protective ex-husband, her budding romance with a detective and her quest for her own lost past add psychological depth. Abu-Jaber's lovely nuanced prose conveys the chill of an upstate New York winter as well as it does Lena's drab existence before she was drawn into the mystery of the crib deaths. This enthralling puzzle will appeal to both crime fans and readers of literary fiction. 9-city author tour. (June)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (June 17, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393064557
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393064551
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.3 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,094,721 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Diana Abu-Jaber's startling literary prowess is only the half of it. What truly sets this author apart is her unpredictability. She has now tackled an incredibly diverse array of genres, and with each book she one-ups the naysayers, delivering knock-out tales that resonate and educate.

In Mixed: An Anthology of Short Fiction on the Multiracial Experience, she offers a tender, poignant, Willa Cather-style coming-of-age tale intertwined with disturbing undercurrents of racial and social alienation. In The Language of Baklava, food is the delectable conduit between family, tradition, and cultural legacy. Crescent, a quirky love story, introduces the reader to a marvelously sympathetic cast of characters. And now, in Origin, Abu-Jaber again walks in a new direction, finding steady footing from the very first page with a taut mystery/thriller. Origin kept me guessing--and it kept me reading well into the night.

The deftness and humanity of her work, and her audacious transcendence of easy labels, surely earn Abu-Jaber a place in the pantheon of today's best and most intriguing authors.
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Format: Hardcover
Diana Abu-Jaber never fails to amaze. Her characters are so perfectly developed that she could write 100 pages of dialogue between five characters, without ever telling us who's speaking, and we would know. Each voice is so unique, so identifiable...and so compelling. In ORIGIN, I thought I'd be annoyed by the neurotic viewpoint of Lena, but I began to understand her and she won me over. Her pain, her tenacity, everything about her...including her driven need to solve this case...kept me turning pages well into the night. This is not the first time Abu-Jaber's fiction has deprived me of sleep...and I hope it won't be the last.
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Format: Hardcover
This original author exhibits her versatility in a novel that pits the terrible reality of a baby killer at large with a young woman's haunted past. In Syracuse, New York, fingerprint expert Lena Dawson is happily ensconced in an intimate office setting, at home with the tools of her trade and diligent in her chosen career. Recently instrumental in the resolution of a very difficult child murder, Lena experiences unusual insights into crime scenes, an invaluable trait in detecting critical evidence in baffling cases. But Lena abhors media attention; her personal history is deeply shadowed by a mysterious past, her foster mother refusing to divulge the details of the transaction that delivered the little girl to the home of Pia and Henry McWilliams.

With vague memories of a rain forest, Lena doesn't speak about her past, the unknown weighing on an already delicate psyche. Lena is that rarest of creatures, an unassuming, devoted employee who only desires to perform her duties in the Lab, following the intricate whorls of fingerprints as incontrovertible evidence. When a recent tragic crib death is challenged by a desperate mother who begs Lena to delve deeper than the obvious, the fingerprint expert is trapped by the tormented woman's pleas, sensing that indeed there may be another, more heinous explanation for the death. Recently, a number of other so-called crib deaths have occurred in the same county, in sufficient number to warrant further investigation.

Thus begins Lena's troubled foray into the complex world of a baby killer, complicated by her own confusing history cobbled from fragments of memory. Eventually, Lena is forced to question her past with a growing suspicion that it is inextricably bound to the deaths of the babies.
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Format: Hardcover
A sense of place has always been important to me as a reader. Diana Abu-Jaber does an impressive job of it in THE ORIGIN. Her novel is set in Syracuse, New York. She uses weather to full effect as most of the story occurs during the winter time, and its main character, Lena Dawson, is susceptible to frost bite. Dawson also likes to walk and this gives us a panorama of what the city is like.

Abu-Jaber also creates a sympathetic character in Lena Dawson, a fingerprint examiner at the Syracuse crime lab. She has some issues, mainly with her foster parent, Pia, who never adopted her. Abu-Jaber also does an excellent job with the minor characters who work in the forensics lab. Her immediate superior Alyce, Sylie in Trace Analysis, and Margot in DNA analysis will remind you of people in your own office. Then there's Charlie, Lena's ex-husband and sensitive detective Keller who supplants Charlie as a love interest. Put them all together and you have a believable world.

Somebody in Syracuse is murdering babies and Lena is the only one, outside of one of the parents, who believes it's not Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. She has an incredible sense of smell and realizes almost immediately that there's something wrong with the baby blankets of the SIDS victims.

One minor complaint I had was Lena's memory of being raised by an ape after a plane crash until at the age of three she was taken in by Pia. I felt that was just a bit over-the-top. But Abu-Jaber uses that motif as a plot thread, and it all comes clear in the end.

Diana Abu-Jaber is an impressive young writer, and I'll be looking forward to her next novel.
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