I love books with houses, and fictional towns with a close sense of community. In They lost things By Okwiri Oduor, Mabel Brown is an old palace that house, on top of the fictional Kenyan town of Mapeli. Imagine a palace falling “dirty and rough”: squeaky gates, stone angels, “thorn-balls and wildflowers and stiff yellow wire and grass”, and courtyards full of cheerful, cheerful anna squeaking ha-ha-ha . This mansion belonged to the matriarch settler Mabel Brown, a missionary wife / widow, and now lives with her great-granddaughter, twelve-year-old Ayosa Atarxis Brown, the loneliest girl in the world. And this novel is the story of the things he lost; Things lost by the people of Mapeli Village, big (mother, love, memory, children) and small (poncho, red braided hair ribbon, denture, Casio watch, biro pen hat).
At the heart of this rich, sweet, and dark family saga of four women is the mother-daughter relationship between Nabumbo Promise and Ayosa: trembling, violent, and lack of love and attention. Mama Nabumbo was often “stumbled upon” and became like a spirit. Ayosa calls these passages “gone to the red city”. This would happen anytime …He (Nabumbo Promise) would drive through the open country according to the assignment when his inner rift opened and he fell to the ground.”, Or between meals. Mama Nabumbo often ‘went’, not just mentally. He was a photojournalist and took on tasks, leaving Ayosa alone for a month with Fatumas, the ghostly sisters who live in the mansion’s attic, to keep him company. Ayosa spent her days reading, writing, listening to the radio, learning from the local pharmacist, talking to the owner of an empty cafe, and living with the pity of the citizens, waiting for her mother to return. When Mama Nabumbo returned, “she loved him terribly, but only briefly, and then her efforts made her tired, and she forgot to love him at all.”
Ayosa keeps a record of the scars on her mother’s body; she spends a lot of time watching her mother return home, sometimes wondering if she is in the spirit of her mother. Ayosa loves her mother unconditionally; they are best friends, laughing, even talking about being a sister. But the Nabumbo Promise was broken, with “all the waste inside” which made it nasty, irresponsible and absent. To deal with these cruel moments, Ayosa would spill bleach on her mother’s clothes or the grass snake on her mother’s bed or call the radio station to tell her that Nabumbo Promise Brown is an evil bitch.
Another lonely girl in this life comes Mbiu Dash, who saves Ayosa’s life. They become fast friends, glued to each other’s company and a miracle for the world outside of Manor Brown. Here is the conversation between Ayosa and the other girl, which is one of the most beautiful episodes about loneliness. Coincidentally, this paragraph sent me running to read the novel when author Gautam Bhatia shared it on Twitter …
After a while, the girl at the window left.
Where are you going?
To see people.
Why do you see people?
For seeing their loneliness. Some wear it like a thin leather coat. Others dig in and turn their noses up like a lunch worm bag. A lady invites her loneliness to lunch every Tuesday. He puts on his best porcelain and sits alone at the head of the table and serves him pork ribs. I think it’s very clear. If your loneliness is wine and dinner, it might not get you in the middle of the night and cut your throat.
True, this is a story about lonely girls and routine days, but the novel is constantly moving and in action. Cars and dragonflies and grasshoppers and bees spin like crazy on the ceiling like a ceiling fan, ghosts dance chakacha with their hips. Every major holiday, the people of Mapeli Village make salt water, grease their elbows and gather in mourning. We move between realms, and prose-free memories have unlimited memories. Ayosa is blessed (or cursed) with the power to penetrate the memories of her ancestors as well as the collective memory of the town’s history. He often travels to another world / state, where he encounters the trauma of his family line, the cruelty between the generations he persecutes, and greater events such as disappearances, genocides, and the colonial past. The things they lost, big and small, like Ayosa’s visions are big, small, inescapable, and often nightmares. It exists between death and life, embedded in the memories of strangers, tempted by ghosts into the unknown, but also trapped in a mother’s eagerness to love. She is an intermediate person, stuck in the memories of a time before she was born, who crosses the line between life and death, to understand the motherly love she desires and to understand a new spirit for the world beyond. Manor Brown. When Mama Nabumbo returns, like everyone else, Ayosa will have to decide whether she wants to embrace the outside world with her new friend Mbiu Dash or whether she wants to live the life she has trusted and always desired for her mother.
The word lyric is often overused when people ask what the word means. Take a copy They lost things and find the meaning of ‘lyrical’ lost. The prose is beautiful, and sensual, full of the wonder of the natural world, sealed with the supernatural. She slips in and is shocked, she creates images with words that are brilliantly suited to the scene, and she remains utterly magical: Mbiu’s mother, who was shot when she tried to rob a bank, “looked like a carrot crack when they ended up with her”. the window “chewed the ice, bucket by bucket, as if the hazelnut had its mouth full,” Nabumbo Promise Brown “went and came like the needles of Blackjack where the wind decided” and often “fell into it.” Inside your mind are “lives like each other like babushka dolls.” Unsaid things can make your sister sour “like a creamy soup left on too long.”
They lost things by Okwiri Oduor teases him with a wonderful name game. Ayosa’s grandmother Lola Freedom is a free-flying pilot and doctor whose actions affect the freedom of her descendants ’intellect, best known for breaking her Nabumbo Promise promises. Things They Lost paints the most beautiful and disturbing picture of absent mothers and intergenerational traumas. It’s an ode to loneliness, and a desire to escape and find one’s own story. He is talking about things that are not said beyond language and memories — both personal and collective. It is a story that has arrived on the radio with stories, nightmares, happy brothers, almost drowned and the news of death. It’s a beautiful story about all the lost things.
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