Book Buzz: What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons

A gorgeous, taut narrative about grief, identity, race, and sexuality enhanced by rap lyrics, archival photos, drawings, graphs, and charts. . . . A beautiful example of self-reflexive postmodern fiction.” The Philadelphia Inquirer



Raised in Pennsylvania, Thandi views the world of her mother’s childhood in Johannesburg as both impossibly distant and ever-present. She is an outsider wherever she goes, caught between being black and white, American and not. She tries to connect these dislocated pieces of her life, and as her mother succumbs to cancer, Thandi searches for an anchor—someone, or something, to love.


In arresting and unsettling prose, we watch Thandi’s life unfold, from losing her mother and learning to live without the person who has most profoundly shaped her existence, to her own encounters with romance and unexpected motherhood. Through exquisite and emotional vignettes, Clemmons creates a stunning portrayal of what it means to choose to live after loss. An elegiac distillation, at once intellectual and visceral, of a young woman’s understanding of absence and identity that spans continents and decades, What We Lose heralds the arrival of a virtuosic new voice in fiction.

“In stark prose, Clemmons’s narrator, Thandi, grieves the agonizing loss of her difficult and loving immigrant mother to cancer. Searing vignettes describe her life before and after her mother’s death. . . . The book’s distinctive form and voice give it an unusual capacity to show how individuals connect deep feeling to broad political understanding—an experience too rarely rendered in fiction.”
The New York Times Book Review

What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons

224 Pages

ISBN 9780735221710


Zinzi Clemmons was raised in Philadelphia by a South African mother and an American father. A graduate of Brown and Columbia, her writing has appeared in Zoetrope: All-Story, The Paris Review Daily, Transition, and elsewhere. She is a co-founder and former publisher of the Apogee Journal and a contributing editor to Literary Hub. She has been in residence at the MacDowell Colony, Bread Loaf, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and Dar al-Ma'mûn in Marrakech, Morocco. Clemmons lives in Los Angeles with her husband, where she teaches at The Colburn Conservatory and Occidental College.

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