What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons

What We Lose, the debut novel of Zinzi Clemmons, is a sweet retreat into the novelty of novels - the freedom authors practice to bring the reader on an exploratory tale of loss, love and identity. 

Jumping from scene to scene, sometimes displayed in images and graphs, Clemmons' character Thandi weaves a narrative that seems not too different from her own. She reflects on what it is to be born both upper-middle-class black American and South African, never welcome into any group for what makes her distinct. She tells of her own coming to love through early relationships and the one that led her to become wife and mother. 

I’ve often thought that being a light-skinned black woman is like being a well-dressed person who is also homeless. You may be able to pass in mainstream society, appearing acceptable to others, even desired. But in reality you have nowhere to rest, nowhere to feel safe. Even while you’re out in public, feeling fine and free, inside you cannot shake the feeling of rootlessness. Others may even envy you, but this masks the fact that at night, there is nowhere safe for you, no place to call your own.
— Zinzi Clemmons, What We Lose

And, most present, she tells of the loss of her mother to cancer, a illness that still leaves fewer black people surviving it than white people, even though it is so often considered the disease of privilege, of white America. (As a side note, this point could have been even further blown up. In addition to disparities existing in the U.S., there are greater disparities worldwide. While cancer incidence is much lower in low- and middle-income countries, cancer mortality is the same and rising.) 

Through both deeply personal reflection and almost anthropological consideration, the character questions what it is to be rooted in multiple worlds while experiencing the great loss of a woman she loved, making the point that this loss is unequal, with more black friends losing parents at a young age than white friends, and a coming to terms with such absence, even in the presence of new relationships and, even, a child. I could not stop turning the page, like reading the broken diary of the most curious woman - her history, her memories and her struggles. In sharing them, we, the readers, come steps closer to understanding.

She comes to me in snatches - I remember pieces of her laugh, the look she gave when she was upset. Sometimes I sniff the bottle of perfume of hers that I saved, but it doesn’t come close to the robustness of her smell. It is her, flattened.

This is what it’s really like to lose. It is complete and irreversible.
— Zinzi Clemmons, What We Lose