Adult Review: What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons


Powerfully short, terse, and heart wrenchingly grief-stricken, WHAT WE LOSE is another classic example of my definition of literary fiction: “fiction in which the style of writing and social implications add just as much to the experience as does the story itself”. (see my review for Chemistry by Weike Wang). Clemmons’ new book is fiction, but reads as memoir or essay, and includes photographs and articles as well as choppy and broken scenes from Thandi’s life growing up in Pennsylvania and visiting family for extended times in South Africa.

Race, fitting in and apartheid are interwoven with sex and marriage and pregnancy and most of all, agony over the loss of the narrator’s mother from breast cancer. The grief is visceral on the pages, but as Thandi states in the book, direct experience is the only way to know how it feels to lose a parent.

This book is not a fun read, and it is not an easy read, but it is a reading experience like none I have had before. Clemmons has challenged the definition of the word fiction, making her a forceful new voice in the genre. I can not wait to see what she writes next.

For an in-depth interview with Clemmons and her writing process for this book, see this interview with Vogue magazine:

Thanks to Edelweiss for the digital review copy of this title – all opinions are my own. 

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