I think this book is now one of my favourites. I LOVE When We Were Birds and author Ayanna Lloyd Banwo has done a spectacular job. The story jumps off the pages and imbeds itself into your mind. I can honestly say I’ve never read anything like this.
It takes place in Trinidad and is written the way Trinidadians speak. For me, the beauty in the language of this novel is significant, it shows how different ‘forms’ or ‘types’ of speech can be just as lovely as something written in the Queen’s English. And that’s so exciting to me. It’s like fiction has levelled up with this book. It reads like a song, with rhythm and a heartbeat.
The book centres around two people; Darwin and Yejide. Darwin has a mother whose love was intense and, in a way, resulted in him not having many other connections besides her. Yejide had a mother who seemed not to love her at all, which forced her to get love and affection from others. Both are dealing with their familial legacy and finding a way forward. One has lived with death close by and the other with it at arm’s length, until he’s forced to face it head on.
I love Darwin and his story and his journey. I know what it is to be so desperate to become the person you yearn to be that you’ll do anything, including something you swore you wouldn’t. To sacrifice your current self for the future version you’re working toward. For him, that’s becoming a gravedigger. The writing as he grapples with death and it’s repercussions and his own involvement in it is superb.
The author’s depiction of Port Angeles is tangible and vivid and parts of it remind me of where I live. For me, the post-colonial is something I’m particularly interested in. I enjoyed reading about traditions and histories and practices I’d never read in a book before. It’s honestly really wonderful and encouraging that this particular book is coming out with such a significant publisher (Hamish Hamilton of Penguin Random House).
I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of reading this book and I highly recommend it. Also, the cover is gorgeous.