Things They Lost

Scribner. Apr. 2022. 368p. ISBN 9781982102579. $26.99. F
DEBUT In this enchanting debut novel, Kenyan-born writer Oduor spins the magical tale of lonely young Ayosa, living in the house where generations of the complicated women in her family have lived, guarded by spirits. Ayosa’s mother, photojournalist Nabumbo Promise Brown, leaves her daughter for months at a time, just as her own mother, Lola Freedom, a bush pilot and physician, had abandoned her. An object of pity in the village, Ayosa fills her days reading, writing, and learning about native plants from the local apothecary. With only her transistor radio for company, she vacillates between love and hate for her neglectful mother yet listens anxiously for the sound of her car. Then one day, while in a fugue state where she sees into the past, Ayosa loses herself to the pull of the river, until another motherless girl, Mbui, saves her from the water and from herself. Through Mbui’s loving eyes, Ayosa’s heart opens to a future of possibilities.
VERDICT 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. Highly recommended.
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