Things They Lost: A Novel (Hardcover)

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Most Anticipated in Vulture, Vogue, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Bitch Media, The Millions, and Ms. Magazine

This astonishing, devastating debut novel, riven through with mystery and magic, tells the story of a lonely girl living in a small African town and her struggle to free herself from her mercurial, charming mother.


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 is a stunning and unforgettable novel that unfurls 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 Headwon 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.

Praise For…


"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."
Financial Times

"[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."
Vogue

"The supernatural runs amok, for good and ill, in this boisterous and bittersweet saga tracking four generations of women from a cursed family in a fictional East African town ... Oduor’s freewheeling invention [is] an undeniable strength."
Daily Mail

"[Okwiri Oduor] give[s] us every reason to believe the richness and variety of writing from the continent is no passing trend ... [Things They Lost] captures a vivid, incantatory world."
World Literature Today

"From the start, Oduor — a winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing, among other honors — broadcasts her tremendous talents ... Come for the beguiling narrative, and stay for the rich, evocative language."
Vulture, Most Anticipated of 2022

"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

"An elegant, enchanting coming-of-age story."
Philadelphia Inquirer

"Kaleidoscopic in depth and breadth, this extraordinary debut is a magical and evocative story of mothers and daughters, longing and love."
Ms. Magazine

"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."
Bitch Media

"Drenched in magic and mystery, this debut novel explores complicated mother/daughter relationships and the power of friendship."
Apartment Therapy

"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."
New Internationalist

"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

"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

"There are a small cadre of authors who redefine literary genres, writing freely without barriers. First-time novelist Oduor joins this exclusive literary club ... a riveting story about love, friendship, and belonging, transporting the reader to a whimsical yet heartbreaking world. This tale of mystery and longing is reminiscent of works by Ngugi wa Thiong'o and perfect for fans of Akwaeke Emezi."
Booklist

"A haunting bond between mother and daughter is examined in Oduor’s ambitious debut ... Oduor makes loss and familial disappointment palpable through her potent and visceral prose. This keeps the reader holding their breath." 
Publishers Weekly

''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
Product Details
ISBN: 9781982102579
ISBN-10: 1982102578
Publisher: Scribner
Publication Date: April 12th, 2022
Pages: 368
Language: English