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  • Writer's pictureJudith D Collins

A Country You Can Leave

Narrator: Amanda Cordner

ISBN: 9781250894588

Publisher: Macmillan Audio

Publication Date: 02/21/2023

Format: Audio 🎧 e-book

My Rating: 4 Stars (ARC)

A stunning debut novel following the turbulent relationship of a Black, biracial teen and her ferocious Russian mother, struggling to survive in the California desert.

When sixteen-year-old Lara and her fiery mother, Yevgenia, find themselves homeless again, the misnamed Oasis Mobile Estates is all they can afford. In this new community, where residents are down on their luck but rich in humor and escape plans, Lara navigates what it means to be the Black, biracial daughter of a Russian mother and begins to wonder what a life beyond Yevgenia’s orbit―insistence on reading only the right kind of books (Russian), having the right kind of relationships (casual, with lots of sex)―might look like.

Lara knows that something else lies beneath her mother’s fierce, independent spirit, but Yevgenia doesn't believe in sharing, least of all with her daughter. When a brutal attack exposes the cracks in their relationship, Lara and Yevgenia are forced to confront the family legacy of violence and the strain of inherited trauma on the bonds of their love.

A Country You Can Leave is a dazzling, sharp-witted story, suffused with yearning, as Lara and Yevgenia attempt to forge their own identities and thrive in a hostile land. Compelling and empathetic, wry and intimate, Asale Angel-Ajani's unforgettable debut novel examines the beauty and dangers of womanhood in multiracial America.

My Review

Asale Angel-Ajani's remarkable debut, A COUNTRY YOU CAN LEAVE —centers around a mother and daughter duo trapped by circumstances. Lyrical, raw, emotional, and often heartfelt, yet witty.

I LOVED the opening of each chapter with life rules to follow (from the spiral-bound notebooks) by the mom for her daughter! Lessons about sex, men, politics, and reading habits—her meager inheritance)—Hilarious! a highlight of this well-written novel. I bookmarked many pages and was fortunate to have the e-book to accompany the audiobook!

Lara is a sixteen-year-old biracial teen girl with an eccentric fiery Russian mom, Yevgenia. From one job and town to another (always on the move), from one dead-end position to another, just trying to survive.

Accustomed to being homeless and her mom taking off, they are now at the rundown Oasis Mobile Home Park in the California desert.

"A desert is a place that lulls a person into believing that nothing is required of them until it's nearly too late, and suddenly, you need all of your faculties to survive."

It is difficult for Lara to have friends since they move around a lot. She does not fit in. The mother-daughter duo has a love/hate relationship. Lara feels her mom does not love her and is embarrassed because she is black. Lara wants to know more about her dad (a Black schizophrenic gifted Cuban musician).

Her mom, a bartender, is loose, loud-mouthed, opinionated, an alcoholic, well-read, wild, unconventional, and enjoys sex. She pays more attention to customers and Lara's friends than she does to her daughter.

She reads a lot, and some might even be impressed with her knowledge. She constantly quotes Russian literature and is not interested in providing a stable, secure home in a traditional sense.

The mom does not like Americans or men (edicts laid out in the notebook quotes). She believes in tough love and has no compassion for others. She is loud and vocal with a foul trashy mouth. One of Lara's friends even called her very "cosmopolitan."

Told from Lara's POV, she loves to read. She is affected by her mother as all she knows. I loved her friend, Charles, the budding poet, and their experience with the literary scene.

The mother-daughter relationship is complex. There are heated arguments, frustrations, misunderstandings, and resentments.

Even though Lara appreciates her mom's independent spirit, she is not the sharing type. In Lara's quest to find her dad, a brutal attack brings some of her mom's past trauma to the surface. Lara finds her life full of confusion and contradictions. Lara wants her mom's acceptance. Lara has relied on her mom, but now she has an impulse to pull away to discover her self-identity.

Topics: Immigrants, culture, race, class, mental health, poverty, acceptance, mother-daughter relationships. I loved the ending!

A COUNTRY YOU CAN LEAVE packs an emotional punch. Told with passion and humor. Sharp-witted with a colorful cast of fun characters, a compelling yet eye-opening realistic view of the obstacles faced by multiracials. A world of desperation and beauty.

I enjoyed the love of books, literary aspects, and reading portrayed throughout the book. The memories of books and stories have the power to shape our lives.

The author's writing is poetic, lyrical, and stunning. The author has been added to my favorite author list, and I cannot wait to see what comes next. This is different from your ordinary coming of age. It is explosive! I would love to see another book like this written from the mom's perspective.

AUDIOBOOK: thoroughly enjoyed the audiobook narrated by Amanda Cordner for an outstanding performance and listening experience. Highly entertaining.

For fans of books, I have read most recently: Margot, Maame, and The Applicant. I listened to the audiobook of all four of these and highly recommend them.

Thank you to #MacmillanAudio, #FarrarStrausandGiroux #MCD, and #Netgalley for a gifted ALC and ARC. #covercrush

@JudithDCollins | #JDCMustReadBooks

My Rating: 4 Stars

Pub Date: Feb 21, 2023


"[A] piercing debut novel . . . In perceptive prose and wry dialogue, Angel-Ajani brings to life a mother and daughter trapped by their circumstances. This is exemplary."

―Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"[A] sharp, observant debut novel, which deftly blends humor and hard truths while examining economic inequities and the emotional toll they take."


"Filled with kick and quirk, this exuberant novel about how we are more than what we look like and where we come from will have you laughing out loud one moment and swallowing back tears the next."

―Al Woodworth, Amazon Editor's Pick

"A tour de force of character, and a captivating story to match. Vivid, tender and unflinching, I loved this journey. "

―Ann-Marie MacDonald, author of Fayne

“A Country You Can Leave is an enthralling and heartfelt novel. In this striking debut, Asale Angel-Ajani’s phenomenal skills shine on every page. This book will leave you profoundly moved and feeling like you better understand the word loneliness.”

―Sarah Jackson, author of A Bit Much

“A Country You Can Leave shattered me with its pain and sweetness. At its heart are a mother and daughter like none I’ve read before, each striving for selfhood in a world that seems bent on crushing them. It’s rare to encounter a debut so fearless and insightful and truly new, but here is Asale Angel-Ajani to show us what’s possible in the landscape of American fiction.”

―Tania James, author of The Tusk That Did the Damage

"A journey through the California everyone should know, a place America needs to see, a world of desperation and beauty, collaboration and redemption. In the best tradition of fiercely perceptive daughters fighting to survive dangerous lives, from Betty Smith to Janet Fitch to Helena Maria Viramontes, the debut of Asale Angel-Ajani was ever surprising, a novel I read in one day."

―Susan Straight, author of Mecca

"From page one, A Country You Can Leave is a riveting, exasperating, and deeply heartbreaking tale of mother-daughter strife and resilience. Asale Angel-Ajani is an explosive talent and her story of Afro-Cuban Lara coming of age in a ruthless headlock with her survivalist Russian mother, Yevgenia, will disintegrate your strong-held emotional walls, down to her very last act of resistance."

―Xochitl Gonzalez, author of Olga Dies Dreaming

"Refined and raw, cosmopolitan and claustrophobic, A Country You Can Leave is a novel of contrasts, built around a mother and daughter who see themselves as nothing alike. Asale Angel-Ajani portrays the complexity of the whole world through this one core relationship. Her debut is as loving as it is demanding, as vulnerable as it is merciless, and its complications will break your heart."

―Julia Phillips , author of Disappearing Earth

About the Author

Asale Angel-Ajani is a writer and Professor at The City College of New York (CUNY) and serves as the Director of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program.

She’s the author of A Country You Can Leave (FSG, 2023) and Strange Trade (Seal Press, 2010). Her articles have appeared in Lit Hub, Ploughshares, MS Magazine, and Los Angeles Review of Books, among others.

She’s held residencies at Djerassi, Playa, VONA, and is a recipient of grants from the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations. She has a PhD in Anthropology and an MFA in Creative Writing.

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