Raised in Pennsylvania, Thandi views the world of her mother’s childhood in Johannesburg as both impossibly distant and ever present. She is an outsider wherever she goes, caught between being black and white, American and not. She tries to connect these dislocated pieces of her life, and as her mother succumbs to cancer, Thandi searches for an anchor—someone, or something, to love.
In arresting and unsettling prose, we watch Thandi’s life unfold, from losing her mother and learning to live without the person who has most profoundly shaped her existence, to her own encounters with romance and unexpected motherhood. Through exquisite and emotional vignettes, Clemmons creates a stunning portrayal of what it means to choose to live, after loss. An elegiac distillation, at once intellectual and visceral, of a young woman’s understanding of absence and identity that spans continents and decades, What We Lose heralds the arrival of a virtuosic new voice in fiction.
“I’ve amazed myself with how well I’ve learned to live around her absence. This void is my constant companion, no matter what I do. Nothing will fill it, and it will never go away.”
Zinzi Clemmons, What We Lose
Clemmons’s debut novel is compelling, poignant and reflective. It is filled with short, nonlinear vignettes of Thandi’s life — particularly after the loss of her mother to cancer. Thandi’s father is African American and her mother is mixed race South African. As a light skinned young black woman, Thandi struggles with identity, belonging and the past. Through Clemmons’s descriptive writing, I was able to grasp Thandi’s grief, despair, and vulnerability. Even though race comes up in the book, What We Lose is about a lot more than race. It is about loss, grief, traditions, and how death plays a role in life. Clemmons is a graceful, and poetic writer. I look forward to additional work by this talented writer.
A huge thanks to Edelweiss and Viking for providing me with an arc of the book in exchange for an honest review. It was a pleasure!