Reviews and synopses won’t prepare you for the experience of reading this book. That’s what it is—an experience of the exploration of grief and readjustment after loss. Delicate but not frail, analytical yet not over-thought, Zinzi Clemmons’ debut novel is a great success. It’s a multidimensional study of life pre-and post-bereavement executed in an incredibly creative manner.
Thandi is an African-American woman raised in Philadelphia, born to a South African mother and an American father. Her identity is split between the two countries, and she explores the significance of race and wealth presented by each through intelligent and strategic storytelling. She reveals her personality through nonlinear vignettes, which are often only a half-page or even a sentence long, but her prose is so powerful that the story lacks nothing. Thandi’s mother is diagnosed with cancer and ultimately succumbs to the disease, which sends Thandi and her father spiraling on separate tangents of grief. Thandi struggles to understand her emotions in a way that is sometimes starkly logical as she draws charts and graphs to explain them. Some days she doesn’t try to understand; she just retreats to public places to avoid her thoughts. In an intermingling storyline that takes place following her mother’s death, she becomes a mother herself, which challenges her every pre-existing belief about motherhood. She attempts to accept other forms of loss such as identity, connection to the past and romantic relationships.
What We Lose contains photographs of various supporting, nonfictional world events that inform Thandi’s character and the roundabout way she expands her story. This novel is not only a journey with Thandi in life after loss, but a true exploration of the complexities of identity and womanhood.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Zinzi Clemmons takes us Behind the Book.