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. – Goodreads
Throughout my life, coming-of-age novels peppered themselves onto bookshelves whenever I ventured. In these novels, heartbreak, love, loss, and joys scattered their footprints, asking me to grasp the main character’s journey by finding similarity.
Most of the time, they failed as they offered two hundred and more pages of a life I witnessed on television and movie matinees. Bottled in blonde ponytails and bouncy curl drenched in Prell shampoo, any hardships described on the page felt sweeter than my actual life. Their attempts at connection rang hollow, because as a black girl (woman), what should have united us (e.g. girlhood, womanhood) ignored vital intersections that rendered their stories “cute” and not to be taken seriously. No, Becky with the good hair, we could be friends, but you’ll never understand me, even if you tried.
Via intimate, unsettling, and pining vignettes, Zinzi Clemmons’ What We Lose gifted me one of the few options of a coming-of-age novel that rang more true than I anticipated. Race, family, loss, sex, and identity cultivated this novel. Despite the fifteen years or so, separating me from the author, her heroine, Thandi, the daughter of a South African “colored” woman and a light-skinned black American man, mirrored experiences founding my life’s walls. Born and raised in Philadelphia, she navigated her life with privileges her multicultural background granted, while trying to interpret her carbon footprint in society. When not pulled between worlds – black and white, American and South African, she hashes rich and middle-class by realizing the gumbo her life created and how those outside do not benefit.