Things They Lost

Okwiri Oduor. Scribner, $26.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-982102-57-9

A haunting bond between mother and daughter is examined in Oduor’s ambitious debut. In Mapeli Town, somewhere in East Africa, Ayosa Brown grows up with the ability to see the memories of her mother, Nabumbo Promise, from before she was born. She also witnessed Nabumbo Promise being attacked by a man with a knife, followed by her mother’s act of retaliation. Now, at 13, Ayosa is often left alone for weeks or months by Nabumbo Promise as she travels for work as a photographer. Nabumbo Promise is tortured by painful secrets from her childhood involving her dead brother and estranged twin sister, which Ayosa knows about but keeps to herself. Ayosa and her mother have an intense, intoxicating relationship; Ayosa’s love is ever replenishing and full of forgiveness, even though her mother’s kisses sometimes repulse her, “like roaches crawling across [her] face,” and her mother’s love is “lukewarm at best.” On her own, Ayosa bonds with Sindano, a woman who owns a café that no one visits, and with Mbiu, a girl who stands outside various windows, sometimes for hours at a time. In their company, Ayosa comes to understand unconditional love. Oduor makes loss and familial disappointment palpable through her potent and visceral prose. This keeps the reader holding their breath. Jackie Ko, Wylie Agency. (Apr.)
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