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Named a Most Anticipated Book by Vogue and Vulture
“Alternately whimsical, sweet, and dark,” this astonishing debut novel about a lonely girl waiting for her mother “brim[s] with uncompromisingly African magical realism” (The New York Times).
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.
Set at the intersection of the spirit world and the human one, Things They Lost sets out a rich and magical vision of “girlhood as a time of complexity, laced with unparalleled creativity and expansion” (Vogue). Heartbreaking, elegant, and written in “giddily exuberant prose” (Financial Times), it’s a story about connection, coming-of-age, and the dizzying dualities of love at its most intoxicating and all-encompassing.
About the Author
Okwiri Oduor was born in Nairobi, Kenya. Her short story “My Father’s Head” won the 2014 Caine Prize for African Writing. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Granta, The New Inquiry, Kwani, and elsewhere. She has been a fellow at MacDowell and Art Omi and a visiting writer at the Lannan Center. Oduor has an MFA in creative writing from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She currently lives in Germany.
"Astonishing ... 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."
—New York Times Book Review
"In giddily exuberant prose, Oduor gradually reveals a terrifying story of generations of maternal abuse and dysfunction."
"[A] story that injects the fantastic into the mystery of Kenya’s disappearing girls ... [Things They Lost] will appeal to any reader who has survived or wants to understand girlhood as a time of complexity, laced with unparalleled creativity and expansion."
"In this enchanting debut novel, Kenyan-born writer Oduor spins the magical tale of lonely young Ayosa ... Caine Prize winner 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."
—Library Journal, STARRED review
"An extraordinary tale about love, longing, and the bond between mothers and daughters."
—Vogue, 25 Books by Black Authors We Can’t Wait to Read in 2022
"Oduor renders this fantastical world so tangibly it almost leaps off the page—a feat aided by her stunning language ... this novel is lively and original; it is a captivating journey from start to finish. A joy to read."
—Kirkus, STARRED review
"The writing is mesmeric, at times as warm and rhythmic as a lullaby, and filled with gentle, keen observations of the natural world. A book with a big heart."
"Drenched in magic and mystery, this debut novel explores complicated mother/daughter relationships and the power of friendship."
"With this debut novel, Okwiri Oduor—winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing—leaves no room to doubt the extent of her talents and imagination. It’s rich, evocative, and irresistible, full of beguiling magic and mystery."
"Kaleidoscopic in depth and breadth, this extraordinary debut is a magical and evocative story of mothers and daughters, longing and love."
"An elegant, enchanting coming-of-age story."
''A wondrous newborn — mewling, dewy, twinkling, gurgling a tale steeped in the acrid surrealism of childhood, populated by wicked wraiths and held together by the vicious spell mothers can cast on their daughters.''
—Leila Aboulela, author of Bird Summons and Elsewhere, Home
"A narrative so profound, its humour shining so bright, that you'd think the author had written hundreds of books to have mastered the art of perpetual storytelling. A stunning debut!"
—Onyeka Nwelue, author of The Strangers of Braamfontein
"Otherworldly, unconventional, delectably surreal. One of the most magical and exhilarating introductions to a main character. Okwiri has taken language, sculpted something new and splendid out of it to deliver to the world. An array of some of the most memorable ‘in-between-worlds’ characters enter the literary world from Mapeli Town with aplomb. What a debut! What a gift!"
—Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor, author of Dust and The Dragonfly Sea
“A coming-of-age tale that deftly refuses to play magic realism straight, Okwiri Oduor’s Things they Lost blends the phantasmagoria of Tutuola’s The Palm-Wine Drinkard with the deadpan, wry humour of Bolaño. A welcome new Kenyan voice.”
—Olufemi Terry, author of "Stickfighting Days" and winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing