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.
A National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 Honoree
NBCC John Leonard First Book Prize Finalist
Aspen Words Literary Prize Finalist
California Book Award First Fiction Finalist
Hurston/Wright Legacy Award Debut Novel Nominee
Longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, the Brooklyn Public Library Literary Prize, and the International Dublin Literary Award
Named a Best Book of the Year by Vogue, NPR, Elle, Esquire, Buzzfeed, San Francisco Chronicle, Cosmopolitan, The Huffington Post, The A.V. Club, The Root, Harper’s Bazaar, Paste, Bustle, Kirkus Reviews, Electric Literature, LitHub, New York Post, Los Angeles Review of Books, and Bust
“The debut novel of the year.” —Vogue
“Like so many stories of the black diaspora, What We Lose is an examination of haunting.” —Doreen St. Félix, The New Yorker
“A richly volatile study of grief, wonderment and love.” —Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal
“A startling, poignant debut.” —The Atlantic
“Raw and ravishing, this novel pulses with vulnerability and shimmering anger.” —Nicole Dennis-Benn, O, the Oprah Magazine
“Stunning. . . . Powerfully moving and beautifully wrought, What We Lose reflects on family, love, loss, race, womanhood, and the places we feel home.” —Buzzfeed
“Remember this name: Zinzi Clemmons. Long may she thrill us with exquisite works like What We Lose. . . . The book is a remarkable journey.” —Essence
“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
“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
Viking Books, Penguin Random House
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The Harlem Renaissance writer's innovative and groundbreaking novel depicting African American life in the South and North.
Jean Toomer's Cane is one of the most significant works to come out of the Harlem Renaissance, and is considered to be a masterpiece in American modernist literature because of its distinct structure and style. First published in 1923 and told through a series of vignettes, Cane uses poetry, prose, and play-like dialogue to create a window into the varied lives of African Americans living in the rural South and urban North during a time when Jim Crow laws pervaded and racism reigned. While critically acclaimed and known today as a pioneering text of the Harlem Renaissance, the book did not gain as much popularity as other works written during the period. Fellow Harlem Renaissance writer Langston Hughes believed Cane's lack of a wider readership was because it didn't reinforce the stereotypes often associated with African Americans during the time, but portrayed them in an accurate and entirely human way, breaking the mold and laying the groundwork for how African Americans are depicted in literature. For the first time in Penguin Classics, this edition of Cane features a new introduction, suggestions for further reading, and notes by scholar George Hutchinson, and National Book Award Foundation 5 Under 35 novelist Zinzi Clemmons contributes a foreword.