Excerpt from Origin by Diana Abu-Jaber, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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A Novel

by Diana Abu-Jaber

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  • First Published:
    Jun 2007, 384 pages
    May 2008, 384 pages

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Ed yanks her back, seizes both her arms. “That’s it!” He starts muscling her toward the door but she surprises him, shrieking and flinging out her arms, knocking him off. She lurches at me, clutching my wrists. I’m too shocked to even flinch, but adrenaline thumps into my muscles and lungs. I watch her pupils contract, and then Alyce is shoving between us, also screaming, “Let her go. You’re hurting her!”

Erin wails; she sags down into a squat, clinging to my fingers, her big wedding ring digging into my knuckles. I’m panting, gulping air, pulling out of her grasp.

Alyce shouts, “That’s enough, that’s enough!”

She lets go. Her head is down, hands out; she’s saying, “Sorry — I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

Someone comes through the entrance and stops, and instinctively I’m hoping it’s Charlie, come to rescue me. But it’s Keller Duseky—one of the homicide detectives from next door. He looks around in the doorway. “Everything okay here?”

Ed says, “It’s good, Kell, I got it.”

I nod at Keller. Erin is still saying, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” She seems to be getting fainter and fainter, as if turning invisible, the words peeling away from her. She twists the diamond around on her finger. More than anything, I want her to stop saying I’m sorry. Just to stop the spiraling voice, I stammer, “Please, I don’t know – I’m not sure what—”

She sobs once, a raw sound, and my own throat tightens. Her grief has some sort of penumbra, like an aura, and I’m caught in it, in some hidden and corresponding sadness in myself. “Really, I just —” I stop. I can’t turn her away.

She stares at me, her eyes look bruised. “I’ll never get to see him grow up,” she says in her terrible, transparent voice. “I’ll never throw a birthday party for him, never cut his hair, never meet his girlfriend…” As she speaks, her voice begins to toll inside of me. It changes shape, taking on substance: like an old memory—as if she was someone I used to know a long time ago, and for me that sort of ancient recognition is rare and disturbing as waking to the sight of a ghost. I have no old memories. I say, “Jesus. Just let me think about it.” My voice is trembling.


My name is Lena;I work at the Lab because they provided training. It said so in the Herald-Journal advertisement: Crime Lab Tech I. One year correspondence course through the FBI Fingerprint Classification School, two years of part-time junior college, and on-the-job-training, filing, and coffee-brewing.

I work in the Wardell for Forensic Sciences, a futuristic rectangle, built in 1989—the year before I applied for the job. It houses the health department’s toxicology lab, the medical examiner’s office, the Red Cross tissue donation center, and the city and country crime labs. Cops right next door. The tiles on the lab floor are a high-sheen blue that look like water when the light hits them right; the walls of windows are all tinted a pale, cosmopolitan teal.


Of course, after that episode with Erin Cogan, we’re all wrecked for doing work. I feel as shocky as if I’ve just been in an accident. The office is filled with the formal silence of catastrophe—everyone sitting trance-like at their desks.

I try to go back to the set of print-matches I’d been working on yesterday, but nothing comes into focus. For a while, I moon out the window — distracted by the way the light seems to unravel into winged insects and lizards and then back into light and glass. I open another case file, try to force myself to read police reports, but eventually I give up, go to the tall cabinet on the end—Cases Involving Juveniles, 2002-- and pull the bedeviling Cogan file. There are two other folders, recently filed in the same drawer, that I glance at, considering. I push the drawer shut. Two or more deaths, same-age victims, within the same time frame and geographic area: red flag.

Reprinted from Origin by Diana Abu-Jaber. Copyright (c) 2007 by Diana Abu-Jaber. With permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

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