Summary and book reviews of Origin by Diana Abu-Jaber

Origin

A Novel

by Diana Abu-Jaber

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

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Book Summary

A fingerprint expert's investigation of a series of crib deaths leads her back to the mystery of her own childhood.

Lena is a fingerprint expert at a crime lab in the small city of Syracuse, New York, where winters are cold and deep. Suddenly, a series of crib deaths—indistinguishable from SIDS except for the fevered testimony of one distraught mother with connections in high places—draws the attention of the police and the national media and raises the possibility of the inconceivable: could there be a serial infant murderer on the loose?

Orphaned as a child, out of place as an adult, gifted with delicate and terrifying powers of intuition, Lena finds herself playing a critical role in the case. But then there is the mystery of her own childhood to solve....Could the improbable deaths of a half-dozen babies be somehow connected to her own improbable survival?

The beauty and originality of Diana Abu-Jaber's writing are here accompanied by deft, page-turning narrative tension and atmosphere, tugging the reader to an unforgettable conclusion.

Chapter 1.

I spot her as soon as I get off the elevator on the fourth floor. She’s waiting on one of the metal folding chairs in the corridor just outside the office. Her bright russet hair sliding out of a barrette, her skin mottled, her face carefully neutral.

I stop short. Listen to the elevator doors slide shut behind me.

Victims exist in another dimension, as far as I’m concerned—they’re theoretical. The police meet the victims; we work in an office. I wouldn’t have become a print examiner if I wanted to meet victims.

I sidle past her, trying not to make eye contact, as I enter the office. Alyce, the division leader, is trying to signal me with her eyes. “Hey—Lena—”

But the woman’s fast; she walks right into the office, between the cubicles, tall and pale and intimidating with this kind of intensity that I realize must be grief. A scary kind of grief. I don’t even make it to my desk, she’s saying, ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Which of the twin plots of Origin do you find more appealing—the "whodunit," or the "who-am-I" of Lena's own self-discovery? How are they related? How are the two kinds of exploration similar, or different, in real life and in fiction?
  2. Which of the two men pursuing Lena did you want her to end up with—Charlie or Keller? Why? How would you describe the differences between these two men? Who is the better protector for Lena, and does she really need to be protected?
  3. What about the apes? What did that aspect of the story bring to this novel? Did you find it believable? Overall, was it a drawback or an enrichment of the story? How do you think it resonates thematically?
  4. What other ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

A good choice for book clubs looking to read a mystery. Many book clubs are rightly cautious of selecting mysteries because, although they might offer an entertaining read, they often provide slim pickings when it comes to conversation. Origin is one of the relatively rare breed of who-dunnits that successfully combines mystery with the opportunity for good discussion.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (458 words).

Media Reviews

Entertainment Weekly

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. B-

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This enthralling puzzle will appeal to both crime fans and readers of literary fiction.

Kirkus Reviews

[A]bu-Jaber transcends formula, weaving the whodunit in prose as evocative as poetry. In winter-gray Syracuse, Lena's senses are heightened. Haunted, moving crime fiction.

Booklist - Donna Seaman

Starred Review. Readers seeking gorgeously rendered fiction as well as intelligent and atmospheric mysteries will find Origin extraordinary.

School Library Journal

Teens fascinated by CSI will find this haunting mystery gripping, all the way to its surprising conclusion.

Author Blurb Andre Dubus III, author of House of Sand and Fog
With prose as cool as a razor yet as wildly impressionistic as a fever dream, Diana Abu-Jaber takes us deeply into Lena Dawson and her search for a killer that must first begin in the lost forest of her own psyche. Origin is a gripping exploration of the elusive nature of identity and one's own remembered past, the innocent and guilty alike. This is a superbly written and utterly compelling novel!

Author Blurb Anita Shreve, author of Body Surfing and A Wedding in December
A dark, noirish literary mystery with an entirely unique detective-heroine. The characters stayed with me long after I had finished the book. I’m not sure I’ve ever read anything like it, which alone is reason to celebrate.

Author Blurb Chuck Palahniuk, author of Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey and Fight Club
With the narrator, Lena Dawson, we get someone entirely new, a hybrid of forensic science and animal instinct. Here’s a brilliant protagonist who can trust her intuition when she reaches the limits of her professional training.

Reader Reviews

Kim

Not your typical mystery novel
There are two mysteries in “Origin,” one concerning the murder of infants, the other the “origin” of the main character. While the mysteries in the novel are compelling, the pace is slower than what you’d find in traditional mysteries. I also ...   Read More

Deborah M

The reviewers are right!
The protagonist in this book is so well drawn that the plot is almost secondary. I cared so much for her and about her. Well written with an unusual plot twist. As a California transplant who was raised in "snow country," her descriptions of ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Children raised by animals?

In Origins, Lena believes she spent her early years in the jungle being raised by apes, which begs the question, are there any real cases of children being raised by animals? You will find the answer at feralchildren.com which has collated a number of claims and attempts to separate fact from fiction.


Mirror-touch synesthesia

Lana is able to sense things that others can't, such as the emotional residue left in a ...

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