A mythic love story set in Trinidad, Ayanna Lloyd Banwo's radiant debut introduces two unforgettable outsiders brought together by their connection with the dead.
In the old house on a hill, where the city meets the...Read More
In the old house on a hill, where the city meets the rainforest, Yejide's mother is dying. She is leaving behind a legacy that now passes to Yejide: one St Bernard woman in every generation has the power to shepherd the city's souls into the afterlife. But after years of suffering her mother's neglect and bitterness, Yejide is looking for a way out.
Raised in the countryside by a devout Rastafarian mother, Darwin has always abided by the religious commandment not to interact with death. He has never been to a funeral, much less seen a dead body. But when the only job he can find is grave digging, he must betray the life his mother built for him in order to provide for them both. Newly shorn of his dreadlocks and his past, and determined to prove himself, Darwin finds himself adrift in a city electric with possibility and danger.
Yejide and Darwin will meet inside the gates of Fidelis, an ancient and sprawling cemetery, where the dead lie uneasy in their graves and a reckoning with fate beckons them both. A masterwork of lush imagination and exuberant storytelling, When We Were Birds is a spellbinding and hopeful novel about inheritance, loss, and love's seismic power to heal.
AYANNA LLOYD BANWO is a writer from Trinidad and Tobago. Her work has been published in The Caribbean Writer, Moko Magazine, Small Axe, POUi, Pree, Callaloo, and Anomaly. She is a graduate of the M.A. in Creative Writing program from the University of East Anglia and is now a postgraduate researcher in Creative-Critical Writing at UEA. When We Were Birds is her first novel.
"Mythic and captivating... Banwo roots the reader in [Trinidad's] traditions and rituals, in the sights and sounds and colors and smells of fruit vendors, fish vendors, street preachers and schoolchildren. In the glorious matriarchy by which lineage is upheld. The result is a depiction of ordinary life that's full and breathtaking." - New York Times Book Review
"[A] masterly debut novel. It announces an important new voice in fiction, at once grounded and mythic in its scope and carried by an incantatory prose style that recalls Arundhati Roy. . . Lloyd Banwo's literary gift lies in her capacity to transfigure [grief] - to conjure a cosmic landscape where the living coexist among the dead." - The Observer
"A thoroughly original and emotionally rich examination of love, grief and inheritance... When We Were Birds is full of life . . .The scenes it hosts are packed with drama, colour and tension, particularly in her gripping finale . . Her novel takes flight and soars." - The Economist
"When We Were Birds is an ode to the idea that broken traditions can lead to beautiful new beginnings." - Time Magazine
"[A] spellbinding novel . . The poetic prose in Ayanna Lloyd Banwo's debut novel captivates from the start . . . When We Were Birds is a unique love story whose magical setting in Trinidad takes center stage." - Real Simple
"Lloyd Banwo conjures an aching sexual energy, places the lovers in deliciously paced jeopardy and takes the tale to an agreeably thundery climax . . .Lloyd Banwo has written a love letter for Trinidad, to remind all of us that yes, love is still very, very nice indeed." - The Guardian
"[Banwo's] craft is both ceremonial and immediate in this way, working on you like an ancient spell to which you know the words, and the ancient sounds beneath their language. [When We Were Birds] is both a love story and a genealogy of dispossession, a death diary folded into the pages of a magically real Trinidad." - Caribbean Beat
"Mysterious, atmospheric and richly painted." - Good Housekeeping
"[A] gorgeous debut novel." - Nylon
"[A] moving and mythic debut...Banwo's stunning lyricism offers a window into her characters as well as a view of the landscape...The otherworldly setting instantly pulls the reader in. This remarkable debut should not be missed." - Publishers Weekly
"Ayanna Lloyd Banwo's When We Were Birds is crafted from the very essence of memory, the long memory, which can only be drawn from the mind and translated into the written word by someone with Banwo's lyrical mastery. Heartwarming and heartbreaking, fantastical and familiar, with characters that burrow their way into your heart and mind with their tragedies and triumphs, When We Were Birds more than sings, more than beams. It is the kind of story that makes you want to spread your arms open wide, embrace the sky, and take flight in your own little way. It is glorious." - Robert Jones, Jr., New York Times bestselling author of The Prophets