Ayosa is a wandering spirit—joyous, exuberant, filled to the brim with longing. Her only companions in her grandmother's crumbling house are as lonely as Ayosa herself: the ghostly Fatumas, whose eyes are the size of bay windows, who teach her to dance and wail at the death news; the Jolly-Annas, cruel birds who cover their solitude with spiteful laughter; the milkman, who never greets Ayosa and whose milk tastes of mud; and Sindano, the kind owner of a café no one ever visits. Unexpectedly, miraculously, one day Ayosa finds a friend. Yet she is always fixed on her beautiful mama, Nabumbo Promise: a mysterious and aloof photographer, she comes and goes as she pleases, with no apology or warning.
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 ... 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.
The innocent tone of Ayosa’s narration steers the reader into a time where there are no distinctions between the spiritual and the physical realms, instead there is the chance to see magic everywhere. To express this, Odour uses elements of magical realism to create 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 Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o and perfect for fans of Akwaeke Emezi.
In this enchanting debut novel, Kenyan-born writer Oduor spins the magical tale of lonely young Ayosa ... 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.