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"What We Lose" by Zinzi Clemmons

Updated: Jan 30, 2020


PUBLISHED DATE: July 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0735221710

PAGES: 224

*September 2017 Hype Lit Book Club Selection

This book takes on the complex issues of colorism, race, health, and identity. It takes on all of these very heavy topics in less than 225 pages. I listened to the audiobook and I read a print copy of the book. I will not discourage you from listening to the audiobook, but reading the print copy is imperative. I had a whole different understanding of the book in reading the physical copy. The formatting of this book is its strength and adds layers of meaning to the text. Clemmons has included photos and charts throughout the novel, giving it the feeling of a narrative nonfiction. The text often reads like a memoir and I frequently had to remind myself that this is a work of fiction. The writing is lush and stunning.

Thandi is the product of a "colored" South African mother and an African American father. She craves African American culture yet feels very much outside of it. She longs for close black friendships in her stiflingly lonely community lacking in diversity, but is warned by her mother that she will be hated by darker skinned girls because of her light complexion. Her mother is full of advice for her daughter. Her mother advises Thandi to straighten her hair - believing pressed locs to be more beautiful. She teaches her daughter to roast a chicken in order to seduce a man, and advises her daughter on what physical characteristics to look for in order to avoid a weak man. Thandi's mother is a force. And when she is diagnosed with cancer, her illness and the aftermath of her death leaves Thandi overwhelmed and reeling into an abyss of loneliness.

This book is steamy. From her first sexual encounter, to listening to her parents making love, to finding herself in a random illicit affair - Thandi explores her sexuality in her loneliness, her encounters a kind of last grab at life. Thandi's observations about her marriage are devastating. If someone writes about you what Thandi writes about her husband, abort the relationship immediately.

Perhaps the most touching and emotional parts of the book are reserved for Thandi's exploration of her mother's cancer and discovering the prevalence of cancer in the African American community. It shocks Thandi that at her mother's doctor's visits so many of the patients are brown and what she perceives to be poor.

Ultimately, this is a very brave debut written in beautiful prose. This was a great book for a book club discussion. There was a lot to talk about. If you'd like to discuss this book with your own book club, feel free to use this discussion guide.

Recommendation: Read it! This is a bold novel that will have you feeling all of the feels.

* I purchased an audiobook version of this book from Audible as well as a print copy.

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