In September I read two books that explored grief and death in very distinct and  ways. These books were Untwine by Edwidge Danticat and What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons.

Today, I will do a combined review and comparison of sorts of these books on grief.

Book Summaries (From Goodreads)

Untwine by Edwidge Danticat

Sixteen-year-old Giselle Boyer and her identical twin, Isabelle, are as close as sisters can be. They are each other’s strongest source of support even as their family life seems to be unraveling and their parents are considering divorce. Then the Boyers have a tragic encounter that will shatter everyone’s world forever.

Giselle wakes up in a hospital room, injured and unable to speak or move. She doesn’t know what’s happened to her sister, to her family, to herself. Trapped in the prison of her own body, Giselle must revisit her past in order to understand how the people closest to her—her friends, her parents, and above all, Isabelle—have shaped and defined her. Will she allow her love for her family and friends to buoy her and lead her on the path to recovery? Or will she remain lost in a painful spiral of longing and regret?

What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons

From an author of rare, haunting power, a stunning novel about a young African-American woman coming of age—a deeply felt meditation on race, sex, family, and country

Raised in Pennsylvania, Thandi views the world of her mother’s childhood in Johannesburg as both impossibly distant and ever present. She is an outsider wherever she goes, caught between being black and white, American and not. She tries to connect these dislocated pieces of her life, and as her mother succumbs to cancer, Thandi searches for an anchor—someone, or something, to love.

In arresting and unsettling prose, we watch Thandi’s life unfold, from losing her mother and learning to live without the person who has most profoundly shaped her existence, to her own encounters with romance and unexpected motherhood. Through exquisite and emotional vignettes, Clemmons creates a stunning portrayal of what it means to choose to live, after loss. An elegiac distillation, at once intellectual and visceral, of a young woman’s understanding of absence and identity that spans continents and decades, What We Lose heralds the arrival of a virtuosic new voice in fiction.

Two Books on Grief: The Reviews

I don’t want to pit Untwine against What We Lose in a book face-off with Danticat vs Clemmons. This isn’t that kind of comparison. But when I was I reading Untwine, I kept thinking about What We Lose.

After each chapter, my mind went back to just how the heartbreak and death of Thandi’s mother was explored with with far more humanity, humour and depth than the blank sadness of Giselle.

Clemmons’ debut was interesting and thought provoking. And seeing and feeling how Thandi becomes unhinged and off-balanced for years reminded me of my own reactions to my grandmother’s death in 2005.

Meanwhile, the stream of consciousness and being stuck in Giselle’s confused state for most Untwine was simply sad.

My biases are strong.

I enjoyed What We Lose and appreciated how Thandi felt because I too felt these emotions and it was a powerful experience to read through these phases of grief after I too have been through them for a decade.

One of the most memorable aspects of What We Lose is how it is written. Honestly around 10% in reading What We Lose, I had to pause and re-read the Goodreads synopsis.

The book began and throughout the story the narrative voice was distinctly that of the millennial opinion thought pieces that popular in the Thought Catalog, and HuffPost. Yes it really felt that way, that I will show and tell you all my messiness, and bare it all for you peppered with stats to show that our heroine was not alone.

In contrast, the grief of the Boyers felt off, somehow sanitised. The flashbacks and stream of consciousness did not help either.

In fact simply put, for me Danticat did not capture the depths of grief. There was sadness,  tears and death and pain but it was just a cloak of sadness and I never cared much for Giselle and her family. Untwine was the September pick for the Kingston based Rebel Women Lit .

Check out the the Rebel Women Lit IG page for updates on the October reads and if you can join in.


And that is it for this week, two books on grief and death.

I am still reading Tess of the D’ Ubervilles, I continue to listen the LibriVox recording while I track my process on Bookshout.

And I completed Olive Senior’s The Pain Tree last week, and I really enjoyed some of these stories. I will share my thoughts on this short story collection next Wednesday.

What are you reading this week?

Have a great week.

Happy Reading!