What We Lose



This novel started slow for me, but once I got used to the book’s style – and I got to Part II – the book really gained momentum for me and I ultimately finished it in two sittings (Read the synopsis here.)

In Part II, Zinzi Clemmons addressed the narrator’s, Thandi’s, experiences and feelings surrounding her mother’s illness and death. Thandi’s meditations on grief over the loss of her mother were beautiful and really struck a chord with me. I felt myself nodding my head up and down over and over in agreement with the sentiments. Like Thandi, I find myself get unrealistically worried if my dad has any sort of complaint about his health – even if it’s just a simple cold! While I recognize this as sort of hysterical, I can’t help it. So much of my remaining identity as a child of two people in this world depends on him being alive. Who am I when the two people who gave me birth no longer walk this Earth beside me? Completely unrealistic, I know, but it’s something I completely relate with.

And when I tried to speak, only tears came. The pain was exponential. Because as much as I cried, she could not comfort me, and this fact only multiplied my pain. I realized that this would be life; to figure out how to live without her hand on my back; her soft, accented English telling me Everything will be all right, Thandi.


Loss is a straightforward equation: 2 – 1 = 1. A person is there, then she is not. But a loss is beyond numbers, as well as sadness, and depression, and guilt, and ecstasy, and hope, and nostalgia — all those emotions that experts tell us come along with death. Minus one person equals all of these, in unpredictable combinations. It is a sunny day that feels completely gray, and laughter in the midst of sadness. It is utter confusion. It makes no sense.

While my favorite parts of the book were the sections on her mother’s illness and death, this book explores many topics. It also addresses racial issues that feel especially timely given the current events going on right now. I find it incredibly important to continue to read narratives written by people of color so that I can continue to explore and evolve in my own personal attitudes. It is my hope that diversity continues to push itself to the forefront in hopes that all of humanity can learn to embrace unity and love and peace.

Clemmons also writes brilliantly on motherhood, marriage and divorce, and feminism. These musings make it evident that Clemmons will have a long and brilliant career in literary fiction. She writes masterfully; she is so eloquent in her structure and sophistication.

My only complaint (complaint? Not sure that’s accurate…confusion??)…I walked into this book thinking it was a novel, but it reads more like a memoir. For reasons I can’t quite explain, that tiny detail was very off-putting to me and took me awhile to accept. I wanted a novel – a cohesive, structured story that I could invest myself in and the quick quips just a couple paragraphs long didn’t grab me and pull me in like I wanted them to. Instead, I found myself thinking, how much of this is actually autobiographical? And if it is autobiographical, why didn’t she just write it that way? Ugh. Admittedly, because of this confusion, it took me awhile to find my reading rhythm and made me disconnected to Part I. I believe it would be fair for me to re-read this section now that I have a better understanding and appreciation for the book’s style.

(Another book I read this summer that brilliantly handled dealing with cancer and death is The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying by Nina Riggs; you can read my review here.)

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