What We Lose (Viking)
From an author of rare, haunting power, a stunning novel about a young African-American woman coming of age--a deeply felt meditation on race, sex, family, and country.
Raised in Pennsylvania, Thandi views the world of her mother's childhood in Johannesburg as both impossibly distant and ever present. She is an outsider wherever she goes, caught between being black and white, American and not. She tries to connect these dislocated pieces of her life, and as her mother succumbs to cancer, Thandi searches for an anchor--someone, or something, to love. In arresting and unsettling prose, we watch Thandi's life unfold, from losing her mother and learning to live without the person who has most profoundly shaped her existence, to her own encounters with romance and unexpected motherhood. Through exquisite and emotional vignettes, Clemmons creates a stunning portrayal of what it means to choose to live, after loss. An elegiac distillation, at once intellectual and visceral, of a young woman's understanding of absence and identity that spans continents and decades, What We Lose heralds the arrival of a virtuosic new voice in fiction.
Praise for What We Lose
"Penetratingly good and written in vivid still life, What We Lose reads like a guided tour through a melancholic Van Gogh exhibit--wonderfully chromatic, transfixing and bursting with emotion. Zinzi Clemmons's debut novel signals the emergence of a voice that refuses to be ignored." --Paul Beatty, author of The Sellout
"An intimate narrative that often makes another life as believable as your own." --John Edgar Wideman, author of Writing to Save a Life
"The narrator of What We Lose navigates the many registers of grief, love and injustice, moving between the death of her mother and the birth of her son, as well as an America of blacks and whites and a South Africa of Coloreds. What an intricate mapping of inner and outer geographies! Clemmons's prose is rhythmically exact and acutely moving. No experience is left unexamined or unimagined." --Margo Jefferson, author of Negroland
"Zinzi Clemmons' first book heralds the work of a new writer with a true and lasting voice--one that is just right for our complicated millennium. Bright and filled with shadows, humor, and trenchant insights into what it means to have a heart divided by different cultures, What We Lose is a win, just right for the ages." --Hilton Als, author of White Girls
"I love how Zinzi Clemmons complicates identity in What We Lose. Her main character is both South African and American, privileged and outsider, driven by desire and gutted by grief. This is a piercingly beautiful first novel." --Danzy Senna, author of New People
"It takes a rare, gifted writer to make her readers look at day-to-day aspects of the world around them anew. Zinzi Clemmons is one such writer. What We Lose immerses us in a world of complex ideas and issues with ease. Clemmons imbues each aspect of this novel with clear, nuanced thinking and emotional heft. Part meditation on loss, part examination of identity as it relates to ethnicity, nationality, gender and class, and part intimate look at one woman's coming of age, What We Lose announces a talented new voice in fiction." --Angela Flournoy, author of The Turner House
"Wise and tender and possessed of a fiercely insightful intimacy, What We Lose is a lyrical ode to the complexities of race, love, illness, parenthood, and the hairline fractures they leave behind. Zinzi Clemmons has gifted the reader a rare and thoughtful emotional topography, a map to the mirror regions of their own heart." --Alexandra Kleeman, author of You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine
Zinzi Clemmons was raised in Philadelphia by a South African mother and an American father. She is a cofounder and former publisher of Apogee Journal, a contributing editor to Literary Hub, and deputy editor for Phoneme Media. Her writing has appeared in Zoetrope, The Paris Review Daily, Transition, and the Common. She has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, Bread Loaf, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and the Kimbilio Center for African American Fiction. Clemmons lives in Los Angeles with her husband.
Zinzi Clemmons photo by Nina Subin