A National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 Honoree
NBCC John Leonard First Book Prize Finalist
Aspen Words Literary Prize Finalist
Named a Best Book of the Year by Vogue, NPR, Elle, Esquire, Buzzfeed, San Francisco Chronicle, Cosmopolitan, The Huffington Post, The A.V. Club, The Root, Harper’s Bazaar, Paste, Bustle, Kirkus Reviews, Electric Literature, LitHub, New York Post, Los Angeles Review of Books, and Bust
“The debut novel of the year.” —Vogue
“Like so many stories of the black diaspora, What We Lose is an examination of haunting.” —Doreen St. Félix, The New Yorker
“Raw and ravishing, this novel pulses with vulnerability and shimmering anger.” —Nicole Dennis-Benn, O, the Oprah Magazine
“Stunning. . . . Powerfully moving and beautifully wrought, What We Lose reflects on family, love, loss, race, womanhood, and the places we feel home.” —Buzzfeed
“Remember this name: Zinzi Clemmons. Long may she thrill us with exquisite works like What We Lose. . . . The book is a remarkable journey.” —Essence
From an author of rare, haunting power, a stunning novel about a young African-American woman coming of age—a deeply felt meditation on race, sex, family, and country
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.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Zinzi Clemmons’ devastating, loosely autobiographical debut novel confronts the ways that losing a parent feels like losing ourselves. When Thandi—the story’s half South African, half African-American protagonist—learns that her mother is terminally ill, emotions come in waves: disbelief, denial, desperation, and depression, all of which linger long after her mother passes. Forced to reexamine her identity, Thandi ponders race, motherhood, and the legacy of apartheid in a world that feels unfamiliar. Using descriptive vignettes that leap thematically, rather than chronologically, between time and place, Clemmons offers a crushingly real glimpse into the mindset of a grieving individual.
Exacting reflections on race, mourning, and family are at the center of this novel about a college student whose mother dies of cancer. Born to an American father and a South African mother, Thandi is a character defined by conflicting conceptions of identity, belonging, and class, divisions that only deepen in the wake of her mother's death. Early chapters establish these dichotomies in content and form, contrasting Thandi's charged visits to Johannesburg with her Philadelphia coming of age by way of photographs, articles, graphs, and song lyrics. The first third of the novel culminates with Thandi discovering that she is pregnant, before then detailing her mother's illness and how the resulting heartbreak ushered Thandi into an ill-fated long distance relationship with Peter, the child's father. Peter moves to New York to marry Thandi and raise their child, Mahpee, but all parties soon glean the untenability of Thandi's building a new family without processing the grief of her original one. Though too restrained, there are some inspired moments, and Clemmons admirably balances the story's myriad complicated themes.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Cultivating but overly mixed storyline . The main character presented is very complex and her life in complicated . The interpretation of race, society, gender roles and culture is plainly expressed and magnified to the readers understanding. It tends to jump around a lot in the midst of the story.