When We Were Birds attracted me partly by its cover (on Netgalley, at any rate) and partly by its description. Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for the ARC, It’s publishing on 10th February.
When We Were Birds
by Ayanna Lloyd Banwo
Darwin is a down-on-his-luck gravedigger, newly arrived in the city of Port Angeles to seek his fortune, young and beautiful and lost. Estranged from his mother and the Rastafari faith she taught him, he is convinced that the father he never met may be waiting for him somewhere amid these bustling streets.
Meanwhile in an old house on a hill, where the city meets the rainforest, Yejide’s mother is dying. And she is leaving behind a legacy that now passes to Yejide: the power to talk to the departed. The women of Yejide’s family are human but also not – descended from corbeau, the black birds that fly east at sunset, taking with them the souls of the dead.
Darwin and Yejide both have something that the other needs. Their destinies are intertwined, and they will find one another in the sprawling, ancient cemetery at the heart of Port Angeles, where trouble is brewing…
Embedded with a timeless, mythic magic and wisdom, and yet alive with a totally fresh, modern sensibility, this hypnotic literary debut is a masterpiece of rhythm, exuberance, heart, loss in cycle with renewal and darkness with light: a reckoning with a grief that runs back generations and a defiant, joyful affirmation of hope.
I wish I hadn’t copied the Netgalley blurb above, now, since what I want to say about it is pretty much the last paragraph. (The Goodreads blurb is overlong, although it does specify When We Were Birds is set in Trinidad & Tobago). I can also echo what several other people have said about it, including ‘difficult to get into’.
It is worth the effort, if you’re having that problem. As with several marvellous books I’ve read recently, it took me a while to adjust, but was then completely hooked.
In the case of When We Were Birds, the adjustment never truly happens, and the patois jars on my self-editing self, yet at the same time it resonates with the life of another place. It is musical and rhythmic, and has me almost swaying in the breeze… I floated on the words, taking in the sense yet not really reading, but absorbing them, which was a strange sensation. The story is compelling, as while Darwin is thoroughly likeable, Yejide is intense, alive, and raging against a fate that will take her freedom from her and make her see the dead.
We switch from one to the other, both their lives beautifully laid out in all their misgivings, fears and desires. And it is no surprise why, when it comes to the reason, it’s just fate. There is still the opportunity for them to deny that fate, of course… all things are possible. But the ending is as beautiful as you’d wish.
But I’m not going to look at crows in the same light, ever again.
A brilliant book, and a wonderful start to my reading year. Even if I couldn’t find a shelf to put it on without making a new one. I’ve put it on gothic and legends because it just has that feel to it, to me.Book Review | When We Were Birds by Ayanna Lloyd Banwo 'a masterpiece of rhythm, exuberance, heart, loss in cycle with renewal and darkness with light' compelling: had me swaying in the breeze #netgalley #WhenWeWereBirds Click To Tweet