RaveNew York Times Book ReviewSome 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 ... Oduor suggests that the body is sickened by secrets; everything must come up and out. There is no lazy epiphany here. Oduor’s world-building feels in part like a metaphor for colonialism and its effects ... Despite its heavy themes, this is not a sad book — it’s full of young-girl laughter, decadent meal-taking, beloved animals and ridiculous near-drownings .. You will never go down another rabbit hole like this ... Oduor suggests that there is always an opportunity for change; one does not have to repeat the trauma. Life, if you fight for it, becomes gloriously available.
Ayanna Lloyd Banwo
MixedThe Guardian (UK)When We Were Birds moves between two characters, Yejide and Darwin, living in a fictionalised Trinidad, its rich urbanity so fondly drawn that it occasionally threatens to take over the narrative ... the romance between Darwin and Yejide? There is no question that the novel ignites when they finally meet, first in a shared vision, and then to arrange Petronella’s burial. Lloyd Banwo conjures an aching sexual energy, places the lovers in deliciously paced jeopardy and takes the tale to an agreeably thundery climax. Still, there are first-novel weaknesses. Darwin’s sections are focused and precise, making for a satisfying romantic lead and a complex human being. Unfortunately, Yejide sometimes feels like a device created to express an idea: her family’s corbeaux legacy is increasingly overwrought and muddied, perhaps because Lloyd Banwo takes too much delight in explaining it to us. Yejide’s sections feel overpacked: with ideas and with minor characters, insufficiently delineated.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)\"Given Shafak’s affinity for the natural world, with whole pages of soaring, rich detail about songbirds or butterflies, the occasional cliched sentence was a surprise ... The personification of the fig tree is a mixed bag, a device I worried might infantilise this adult text. And the more \'human\' the tree—its love for Kostas, the way it feels \'jet lagged\', even its concern for Ada—the less interesting, even mawkish, it seemed. Add the contrivance of small creatures whispering plot points to its branches and for me, coincidence trumped craft. But when Shafak goes deeper into its arboreal life, the tree’s voice is a delight ... when the novel’s sure and towering end arrived, nearly all Shafak’s decisions made sense, moving me to tears and humbling me with the confidence of a storyteller for whom every decision is deliberate. This is a beautiful novel—imperfect, but made ferocious by its uncompromising empathy.