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Mesmerising, mythic and timeless - the most unmissable debut novel of 2022 - for fans of Arundhati Roy, Toni Morrison and Monique Roffey
Darwin is a down-on-his-luck gravedigger, newly arrived in the Trinidadian 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 dead. 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 the island, where trouble is brewing...
Rich with magic and wisdom, When We Were Birds is an exuberant, incantatory masterpiece that conjures and mesmerises on every line. Ayanna Lloyd Banwo weaves an unforgettable story of loss and renewal, darkness and light; a triumphant reckoning with a grief that runs back generations and a defiant, joyful affirmation of hope.
'Exceptional. The originality of its premise, the power and beauty of its prose, the depth of its explorations of what it means to love and be loved' Jacob Ross, author of Black Rain Falling
'Combining the richness of myth with razor-sharp observation of contemporary life, When We Were Birds marks the emergence of a distinctive and powerful voice' Pat Barker, author of The Silence of the Girls
'Ayanna Lloyd Banwo is a rising literary star from a region which gave the world three Nobel Laureates in literature. She conjures old magic and yet she is a strong, new voice' Monique Roffey, author of The Mermaid of Black Conch
© Ayanna Lloyd Banwo 2022 (P) Penguin Audio 2022
Exceptional. The originality of its premise, the power and beauty of its prose, the depth of its explorations of what it means to love and be loved... When We Were Birds is about the silver cord of memory and blood and history that binds a family of women even after death. I loved this book
Combining the richness of myth with razor-sharp observation of contemporary life, When We Were Birds marks the emergence of a distinctive and powerful voice
Ayanna Lloyd Banwo is a rising literary star from a region which gave the world three Nobel Laureates in literature. She comes from a lineage of high Caribbean Lit and it shows. This is an impressive debut about love, family, ancestry, the dead and the living. Read this book for its magic and realism too, for its deft weaving together of lives... Ayanna Lloyd Banwo conjures old magic and yet she is a strong, new voice
Heart-warming and heart-breaking, fantastical and familiar, with characters that burrow their way into your heart and mind with their tragedies and triumphs, When We Were Birds 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
An eloquent and breathtaking novel from an irresistible new voice. The words are there on the page and then whoop! Suddenly they are right in the centre of your heart. Ayanna Lloyd Banwo writes on the wings of love and death
A moving and fervent meditation on belief, love, family and the transitionary power of death, Banwo's spirited, finely wrought prose draws you in and doesn't let go. When We Were Birds marks a distinctive, bold and truthful new voice in literature. Long may she fly
Magical, enchanting, majestic... Infused with the lush and terrible beauty of the Trinidadian landscape, When We Were Birds weaves dreams and apparitions, religion and myth, into a story of love in its many manifestations
I absolutely loved it, and I'm sure everyone who picks it up will love it too. When We Were Birds has a similar power and depth to This One Sky Day. It is a love story between two outsiders but also a love letter to language itself, full of myth but deeply grounded in reality. I cannot wait to read what Ayanna writes next!
Ayanna Lloyd Banwo is one of those rare voices you come across once in a long while - strong, confident and necessary. She reminds us what we should expect from great writing: the daring to take chances and to experiment with language and form
Uplifting, engaging, expansive: this was just the book I needed. In a voice infused with the rhythms of Trinidad and Tobago, Banwo has crafted the perfect love story, one that moves with deftness between the furies of urban poverty and the gentle infinities of the afterlife. The hard-won peace and redemptive love in this story are real, and something we need more of in the world