What We Lose

Unknown-2By Zinzi Clemmons

The Short Take:

Some events in this thoughtful, pain-driven novel are drawn from the author’s own experiences. She is also a light-skinned black woman largely living in a white world, who lost her mother while in college. Clemmons addresses the problems of loss and identity with exceptional honesty, however it is hard to relate to many of the central character’s actions.

Why?

This novel is written in vignettes, as if the central character, Thandie, was keeping a journal where she recorded whatever touched her heart that day. This makes the book a little disjointed plot-wise, but it also adds a stronger emotional appeal.

Thandie’s (and supposedly Clemmons’) expressions of grief are often poetic and consistently insightful. She explores how her skin makes her feel like an outsider, not only in her home community of Philadelphia, but also with her mother’s family in Johannesburg, South Africa. She makes acute observations about the divide between rich and poor in the latter location and the escalating crime problem. The novel also includes some historical facts with related photographs, such as the criminal behavior of Winnie Mandela (which was frankly a puzzling addition).

However, for all the looking inward and emotional outpourings, Thandie keeps her distance from the reader. You want her to tell you more and provide context for her actions. Instead you encounter some rather inexplicable behavior and more surface than depth.

Clemmons’ writing style is lyrical, but I’m not sure what else the reader gains from this experience.

A Little Plot:

Thandie’s mother dies and this affects her deeply. She and her father withdraw from each other emotionally. Thandie engages with different people and occupations, but nothing seems to fill the void.

For more about Zinzi Clemmons and her writing click here.

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