four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
30-Sept-Oct-2007
user_rating: 
0

A-OriginWhen Syracuse fingerprint analyst Lena Dawson is accosted in her lab by a grieving mother, she initially discounts the woman’s wild claims. After all, the police believe it was a simple case of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome—until more children die. On a hunch, Lena visits the site of a recent death and is inexplicably overcome in the child’s bedroom. Discovering the baby’s blanket saturated with a toxic chemical, she soon believes that a serial killer is at work. The mounting evidence seems connected to Lena’s own dimly remembered past, consisting of shadowy recollections of an ape in a rain forest, and Lena suddenly finds herself the murderer’s next target.
Norton. 384 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0393064557

Baltimore Sun 4 of 5 Stars
"One of my primary complaints with the recent spate of forensic science-heavy crime novels is that arcane detail and gruesome bloodshed too often override the need for compelling characters and emotional honesty. So Abu-Jaber’s fourth novel comes as a welcome surprise—not only because she moves away from the lush prose that marked her previous, highly literary accounts of Middle Eastern culture to a more austere, coldly gripping tale of psychological suspense, but also because Origin synthesizes the thirst for forensic knowledge with astonishing character studies." Sarah Weinman

Chicago Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"Abu-Jaber is a gifted and graceful writer, deft at evoking a scene and creating pace that almost turns the pages itself. … When the mystery about the babies’ deaths becomes solved, it feels neither surprising nor inevitable, as befits a gratifying dramatic conclusion." Jessica Treadway

Miami Herald 4 of 5 Stars
"Origin is a mystery of cold beauty and dark isolation, written with crystalline precision. … It’s a little film noir, a bit independent-woman-detective thriller, and winningly fresh in its approach." Amy Driscoll

New York Daily News 4 of 5 Stars
"As Abu-Jaber ties her fragile heroine’s past to her fraught present, the tension of Origin escalates, shaped as much by beautifully nuanced prose as menacing events." Sherryl Connelly

South FL Sun-Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"Most important, Origin has a briskly paced plot and realistic characters who tug on the readers’ emotions. … Abu-Jaber’s lyrical, intelligent writing makes Origin outstanding." Oline H. Cogdill

Oregonian 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Although the last third of the book lags at times, and the truth about the crime is explained in a cumbersome exposition, in the end, none of this matters: when she’s honed in on her real motif, Abu-Jaber writes prose and dialogue with the best of them and is capable of the most delicate and poignant insight into the complexity of relationships, clear in the knowledge that we flawed human beings can’t love—or be loved—unless we know who we are." Peter Handel

Entertainment Weekly 3 of 5 Stars
"It would be nice to report that Abu-Jaber approaches the ape angle with a sense of humor, but she is apparently quite in earnest. The thriller elements of Origin are strong enough to make you want to keep reading, but you won’t be able to help rolling your eyes." Jennifer Reese

Critical Summary

Diana Abu-Jaber’s fourth novel is quite a departure from her previous depictions of Arab-American culture: it is a gripping police procedural that doesn’t sacrifice literary aspirations to the twists and turns of a cunning plot. On the contrary, critics praised Abu-Jaber’s dynamic prose, lively dialogue, and refreshingly genuine characters. And while enough forensic details exist to satisfy CSI fans, critics noted that the descriptions would not trigger a gag reflex in less scientifically inclined readers. Some considered Lena’s memories of the rain forest laughable, but only Entertainment Weekly deemed that particular story line completely unconvincing. Weaving themes of identity and isolation into the briskly paced plot, Abu-Jaber has written a smart, edgy, and unnerving thriller.