Though mostly comprising of short chapters, some shorter than a page, What We Lose is a poignant novel that succeeds on many different levels: it captures the narrator’s inner feelings, it gives a crystal-clear understanding of her circumstances, and it provides us with insights into questions of love, race, illness, grief, and motherhood. Thandi, our narrator, is a light-skinned Black woman who although raised in America feels both close and not to South Africa, her mother’s country. Clemmons marries a coming-of-age story—self-fulfilment, love, friendships, career, finding a place to which you can fully belong—with a piercing commentary on race, class, cancer (providing sobering evidence showing the disproportionate death rate among Black people, regardless of class), gender, and love. The narrative hones in on Thandi’s grief over the death of her mother. She recalls those excruciating months in which her mother was bedridden and in atrocious pain. There are portions of the narrative that relate to the still ongoing aftermath of apartheid and Clemmons initiates some thoughtful discussion about South Africa’s history and current socioeconomic.
Clemmons prose is restrained yet startling for its preciseness. With just a few words Clemmons manages to explore with authenticity and nuance complex feelings and scenarios. It is not a happy tale, as it brings to the forefront some sad yet real truths. Still, here and there, we are given glimpses of hope and genuine love (especially between Thandi and her best friend). Part of me did wish that the novel could have been a bit longer but I also recognize that the ending did not feel abrupt nor hurried.
my rating: ★★★½
The World Unseen by Shamim Sarif
★★★✰✰ 3 stars
The World Unseen was not the love story I hoped it to be.
While there were sections of this novel that well written, for the most part I found Shamim Sarif’s writing style rather monotonous.
The story takes place in apartheid South Africa in the 1950s. This historical setting was portrayed in vivid detail so much so that I often felt horrified by what apartheid entailed. The novel focuses on two Indian women who, although very different (one is married and has children, the other one runs a café). The story also follows the characters around their lives, in particular their family members. At times I was frustrated by the fact that these characters had so much page-time given that seeing from their perspectives didn’t really flesh them out.
A lot of these characters act in a rather clichéd fashion (the ‘bad people’ are incredibly cartoonish) and the two female leads were surprisingly boring. I was hoping that the romance that develops between the two would bring out more of their characters but it just made Amina seem very pushy.
All in all, I’m not sure if I liked this or not.
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Things I Don’t Want to Know: On Writing by Deborah Levy
★★★✰✰ 3 of 5 stars
In Things I Don’t Want to Know Deborah Levy revists her childhood in South Africa in order to better understand her place in the present. She herself admits that her writing favours form > matter and so in this short book she focuses more on the sound of certain phrases rather than providing a more clear cut depiction of her personal life. Levy conveys the kind of thoughts that children have but her writing jumps too quickly between different subjects that I often lost the trail of her discussion or reflection.
Nothing groundbreaking or deeply affecting but in such a short format Levy had a ‘restricted’ space for all those topics she wanted to handle.
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