Thursday 3 May 2018

What We Lose

'What We Lose' by Zinzi Clemmons has something of The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas, but written more from the perspective on someone slightly older and wiser looking back than a young person relating their immediate experiences. Although a novel it is written first person and it comes across as quite autobiographical I am not sure how much of it is. It feels rather like a diary, but one that has been chopped up and put back together in the wrong order; the timeline is vague and sometimes looking backwards. The chapters are brief, often like vignettes of moments of her life, rather than one continuous tale, and it is interspersed, unannounced, by quotes from other people and other places, only referenced at the end of the book, but things that are significant to the character's experiences. It is the death of her mother from cancer that dominates the book; a relationship that she reflects on over and over, what would her mother have said or done about the events in her life. A sense of belonging is a very complex thing for human beings, made more so with social and geographic mobility which means often people find themselves bonded to different places and different groups at the same time. Often, instead of feeling they belong in many places, people end up feeling that they don't quite belong anywhere. Thandi struggles also to be part of the modern world without rejecting her mother's more traditional viewpoint. Here, while visiting relative in South Africa, she talks about the process of learning how she identifies herself: 

"When I called myself black, my cousins looked at me askance. They are what is called coloured in South Africa - mixed race - and my father is light-skinned black. I looked just like my relatives, but calling myself black was wrong to them. Though American blacks were cool, South African blacks were ordinary, yet dangerous. It was something they didn't want to be.
American blacks were my precarious homeland - because of my light skin and foreign roots, I was never fully accepted by any race. Plus my family had money, and all the black kids in my town came from the poorer areas. I was friends with the kids who live on my block and were in my honours classes - white kids. I am a strange in-betweener. " (p.26)

When her friend Aminah falls pregnant she supports her in getting an abortion but when Thandi in turn finds herself pregnant she delays and prevaricates and eventually has a son. The relationship with Peter, so sweetly idealised at the beginning cannot last, even though they work hard at parenting together:

"I have also felt sublime terror since he was born. it is impossible to think of him without thinking of his death - when he falls from  the couch, when I struggle to hold him after a long day. I imagine him falling from great height, the terrible sound, the way his body will become foreign with the life gone. I have never wanted someone as much as hi, and simultaneously been so afraid of that person being taken away." (p.177)

I loved her for the intensity of her feelings and the ways she is not afraid to struggle for what she wants. The style is very matter of fact, about the people and their relationships, with strong political overtones; certainly a book that is deserving of its enthusiastic reception. 

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