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

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio


A Novel

by Diana Abu-Jaber

  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

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

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse Review Team

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

“One of my babies is involved?” Margo draws herself up. “I wouldn’t care! Mortgage the house, go rob a bank. Who cares? I’d want to know that I’d done everything in my earthly powers.”

“I think that’s why she came looking for Lena,” Alyce says evenly.

“Maybe I’d hire a hit man,” Margo says. But then she sighs and glances at me.

I look down. I don’t want to eat this tuna, even though I just made it myself this morning; I put it back on the wax paper wrapping and fold it up. I can feel Margo looking at me, her irises so dark they blend into her pupils. “Lena?” I slide the sandwich back in the paper bag. “Lena?” Her voice is tenuous. “Do you, you know, sense anything on this one?”

I shake my head. I can see the mother in her face. I see her waiting in there like an animal in a cave. I look down and say, “No, nothing in particular.” Sometimes the crime circumstances and motives come to me so clearly that I’ll feel shaken for days afterwards. I’ll see the crust of blood on an embroidered handkerchief and the motives come to me out of nowhere: she wanted to kill her husband for a long, long time. Or: he was always afraid of the other children at school. Or: she couldn’t take the noise in that house one second more.

Once, I collected a wilted page of notebook paper from a crime scene, that turned out to have been dampened with tears, and I saw it: the man writing that page knew that his killer was coming.

But I smile at Margo and say, “Just doesn’t seem that unusual.”

“No, I didn’t think so,” she says.

Forensics takes a straightforward approach: it leans scientific principles up against the pursuit of the law. One set of rules crosshatches the other. You gaze at the hair and skin fibers scraped from under a victim’s nails: first under a hand lens, then the microscope, waiting for the legal-scientific thing called “evidence” to appear. The hope is, of course, that the harder and closer and longer you look, the more you see. But sometimes the thing you must do is lean back, relax, close your eyes. You can’t rush.

I watch Margo settle into the chair. Her unconscious hand taps the purse where she keeps her children’s photographs. Sometimes in the Lab, we’ll say things just to soothe each other. Margo has decided, for now, to believe me. She knows full well about the way evidence can look when you stand in one light, then change utterly when you stand in another. She nods again and squeezes my hand. “I’m paranoid,” she says weakly.

“What do you expect?” Alyce brandishes one hand as if we were at the gates of hell. “Working here?”

“The worst humanity has to offer, on a daily basis,” Sylvie says. “It’s like when medical students start to think they’re getting all the diseases they’re studying.”

Alyce says, “We think we’re gonna get all the crimes.”

Margo is smiling but she doesn’t stop gazing at me, either. My eyes feel hot, x-rayed.

The women look at each other, then laugh as if startled, the sound rippling around me, silvery little waves at the base of a rock, swirling with anxiety.

The detectives think the Lab techs are a little creepy—with our jokes and our attitude. But the street police, the infantry, know—you’ve got to hang on to a sliver of humor. We’re piece-workers, trained on our segment of the mystery. Which is just how I like it—working in a mute space all my own.

Margo says, very casually, “It’s a good thing you don’t have any of your own, Lena. Really girl, you are so so lucky.”

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

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member
and discover your next great read!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket
    Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions
    by Mario Giordano
    Munich matron and self-described worldly sophisticate, Isolde Oberreiter, has decided to retire to a...
  • Book Jacket: Of Arms and Artists
    Of Arms and Artists
    by Paul Staiti
    In the late eighteenth-century, the United States of America was still an emerging country, ...
  • Book Jacket: So Say the Fallen
    So Say the Fallen
    by Stuart Neville
    Noir crime fiction – Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett anyone? – is an American invention...
Book Discussions
Book Jacket
The Bone Tree
by Greg Iles

An epic trilogy of blood and race, family and justice.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Next
    by Stephanie Gangi

    Fast-paced, wickedly observant, and haunting in the best sense of the word.

    Read Member Reviews

Win this book!
Win The World of Poldark

Win the book & DVD

Enter to win The World of Poldark and the full first series on DVD.


Word Play

Solve this clue:

One S D N M A S

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.


Free Weekly Newsletter

Keep up with what's happening in the world of books:
Reviews, previews, interviews and more!

Spam Free: Your email is never shared with anyone; opt out any time.