When I started reading What We Lose, I thought it was a memoir. 50 pages in I happened to turn over the proof and noticed the words “a novel”, alongside realising that the author’s name was Zinzi, not Thandi. I had become so enraptured in the writing, I hadn’t for a second thought it wasn’t memoir. Thandi is such a fully realised person that I fully believed What We Lose was the story of her life, and a life that actually lived.
What We Lose follows Thandi through the death of her mother, told through short vignettes in a style straight out of the literary memoir genre. Thandi is both American and South African, but she feels not quite either, and the non-linearity of the novel finds her both in love and falling out of love at the same time.
Through her eyes (and Zinzi’s) the reader is told a lot about the history of South Africa, from Oskar Pistorious to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela to the photography of Kevin Carter. The novel also includes photographs and short poems, creating a multimedia experience akin to Claudia Rankin’s poetry collections. Clemmon’s sparse yet impactful prose brings to mind the best works of Elizabeth Strout and Deborah Levy.
While it took me only an evening to read this novella, the emotions linger. Clemmons explores the spectrum of grief from the sudden bereavement to forgetting their voice. Her writing is honest and ragged raw. I’m still thinking about Thandi now, and wondering how about her life after the novel.
I truly, truly think that What We Lose is going to grab the attention of several literary awards. It’s an impressive, profound novella that balances history with the complexities of romance, grief and a sense of belonging.
Interested? Get it here.
What to read next:
Thank you kindly to the team at Harper Collins Insider and 4th Estate Press for sharing this copy with me.