Things They Lost
‘Magical, beguiling… Carries echoes of Toni Morrison’s Beloved’ Guardian
A Vulture ‘Book We Can’t Wait to Read in 2022’
They had not lost anyone that year, or the ones they had lost were not worth remembering…
Set in the fictional Kenyan town of Mapeli, Things They Lost tells the story of four generations of women, each haunted by the mysterious curse that hangs over the Brown family. At the heart of the novel is Ayosa Ataraxis Brown, twelve years old and the loneliest girl in the world.
Okwiri Oduor’s stunningly original debut novel sings with Kenyan folklore and myth as it traces Ayosa’s fragile, toxic relationship with Nabumbo Promise, her mysterious and beguiling mother who comes and goes like tumbleweed: lost, but not quite gone.
'Dazzling... In giddily exuberant prose, Oduor gradually reveals a terrifying story of generations of maternal abuse and dysfunction.' -- Financial Times 'Oduor's magical, beguiling debut novel carries echoes of Toni Morrison's Beloved... Beautifully written, compelling, ominous and mysterious, with a strong, young, female Kenyan voice at the centre.' -- Guardian 'An extraordinary tale about love, longing, and the bond between mothers and daughters.' -- Vogue, 25 Books by Black Authors We Can't Wait to Read in 2022 'A tale steeped in the acrid surrealism of childhood, populated by wicked wraiths and held together by the vicious spell mothers can cast on their daughters.' * Leila Aboulela, author of Bird Summons * 'The supernatural runs amok, for good and ill, in this boisterous and bittersweet saga tracking four generations of women from a cursed family in a fictional East African town... Oduor's freewheeling invention [is] an undeniable strength.' -- Daily Mail 'Some novels demand you read every word with great care, making the experience one of cumulative intensity. Things They Lost, the astonishing debut from the Kenyan writer Okwiri Oduor, is such a novel. Oduor has produced page after page of gorgeous, elegiac prose. Dense and rich as a black Christmas cake and alternately whimsical, sweet and dark, Things They Lost is a complex work, brimming with uncompromisingly African magical realism, about the ambiguity of toxic mother-daughter relationships and the urgently restorative nature of friendship.' -- New York Times 'Things They Lost, written by Caine Prize-winning Kenyan author Oduor, defies categorisation... The writing is mesmeric, at times as warm and rhythmic as a lullaby, and filled with gentle, keen observations of the natural world. A book with a big heart that feels like a hug.' -- New Internationalist 'An original and dazzling debut novel ... A haunting, magical union of Kenyan folklore and the sometimes fragile union between mother and daughter.' * New African * '[A] story that injects the fantastic into the mystery of Kenya's disappearing girls... [Things They Lost] will appeal to any reader who has survived or wants to understand girlhood as a time of complexity, laced with unparalleled creativity and expansion.' -- Vogue 'A soaring debut. Things They Lost is an exhilarating read. I could not put it down.' -- Peace Adzo Medie, author of His Only Wife 'From the start, Oduor - a winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing, among other honors - broadcasts her tremendous talents ... Come for the beguiling narrative, and stay for the rich, evocative language.' -- Vulture, Most Anticipated of 2022 'Studded with mystery and magic... a novel about love at its most intoxicating.' * Natasha Onwuemezi, Bookseller * 'What a singular and palpable world, teeming with life and wonder. In exuberant prose, at once witty and poetic, Okwiri Oduor threads a wondrous tale of girlhood, longing, and community with the ghosts that both love and hurt us. I read this book with gratefulness and awe! We will be reading Ms. Oduor for years to come.' -- Novuyo Rosa Tshuma, author of House of Stone 'In this debut set in late 1980s Kenya, spirits benevolent and malicious rattle in attics and lead people's lives astray. Twelve-year-old Ayosa remembers things from long before her birth when she was just "a wriggling thing". Abandoned by her flighty mother for months at a time, she lives on handouts from neighbours and interprets violent intrusions from the natural world as desire... Rich with myth and the natural landscape of Kenya, this novel is entertaining and innovative.' -- The Irish Times 'So profound, its humour shining so bright... A stunning debut!' -- Onyeka Nwelue, author of The Strangers of Braamfontein 'Debut author Oduor renders this fantastical world so tangibly it almost leaps off the page - a feat aided by her stunning language... this novel is lively and original; it is a captivating journey from start to finish. A joy to read.' -- Kirkus (starred review) 'Such a wonderful work of vivid imagination and gorgeous, lush writing. Oduor weaves a magical world that is so mesmerising I lost myself entirely within the pages. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for something fresh and a bit wild.' -- Tendai Huchu, author of The Hairdresser of Harare 'A haunting bond between mother and daughter is examined in Oduor's ambitious debut... Oduor makes loss and familial disappointment palpable through her potent and visceral prose. This keeps the reader holding their breath.' -- Publishers Weekly 'There are a small cadre of authors who redefine literary genres, writing freely without barriers. First-time novelist Oduor joins this exclusive literary club... A riveting story about love, friendship, and belonging, transporting the reader to a whimsical yet heartbreaking world. This tale of mystery and longing is reminiscent of works by Ngugi wa Thiong'o and perfect for fans of Akwaeke Emezi.' -- Booklist 'A coming-of-age tale that deftly refuses to play magic realism straight, Okwiri Oduor's Things they Lost blends the phantasmagoria of Tutuola's The Palm-Wine Drinkard with the deadpan, wry humour of Bolano. A welcome new Kenyan voice.' -- Olufemi Terry, author of Stickfighting Days 'Otherworldly, unconventional, delectably surreal. What a debut!' -- Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor, author of The Dragonfly Sea 'It is a story about mothers and daughters, of daughters who become mothers to daughters who become mothers, and a story of girls who are abandoned and alone, of girls who find family in other lonesome girls. It is also the story of how death permeates our lives...Things They Lost wrestles with how these changes are processed collectively, a complex combination of celebratory remembering and willful forgetting.' -- Guernica Magazine 'In this enchanting debut novel, Kenyan-born writer Oduor spins the magical tale of lonely young Ayosa... Caine Prize winner Oduor explores generational abuse and violence with a gentle touch, managing to elicit compassion rather than judgment for these withholding mothers and daughters. From the novel's dazzling first sentence to its gratifying conclusion, readers will be mesmerized by Oduor's linguistic skills.' -- Library Journal (starred review) 'Okwiri Oduor's penchant for magic emerges from her attention to ordinary things: she can make a teacup seem like the most interesting thing in the world... Her work does this thing where it makes me feel satisfied, like I have eaten exactly the right amount of my favourite food, but I am also ready to eat more until I am uncomfortably full and bursting at the seams with story and enchantment.' -- Johannesburg Review of Books 'Rich, delicious and dark... The prose is beautiful and sensuous, filled with the wonder of the natural world, sealed with the supernatural. It slides and surprises, conjures up imagery with words that bewitchingly suit the scene, and remains utterly magical.' -- The Book Satchel 'Meet Ayosa, the wonder of her world, the trauma, all captured by the most expressive and poetic writing. They say have your own style; does this whole book launch a new narrative fiction genre?' -- Nataka Books 'This rich, delicious & dark family saga is titillating & unsettling, which creates such a beautiful picture of intergenerational trauma... It absolutely takes your breath away.' -- Introverted Black Reader blog 'In her debut novel, Oduor takes us to a dreamy East African world where women are at their most powerful when they lean into the multiple selves and worlds they embody.' -- Brittle Paper, '100 Notable African Books of 2022'
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