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When We Were Birds by Ayanna Lloyd Banwo

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When We Were Birds: 08/17/22

When We Were Birds

When We Were Birds by Ayanna Lloyd Banwo begins with a fable of parrots becoming corbeaux and the title implies that the girl listening to the story is related somehow to those corbeaux. That's the set up of this story of finding love in a cemetery.

I've been mulling this novel since I finished it. When We Were Birds is one of those rare for me books that I didn't want to put down once I started it.

It's written with a poetic cadence that I'm guessing is Trinidadian and Tobagonian English (TE). The entire novel is done this way from dialog through prosaic passages. There are times when either Darwin or Yejide are speaking more formally and the entire language will code switch into something more akin to British English. The choice to write the entire text in a consistent dialect builds a solid foundation of world and character building.

The core story is the meeting of Darwin and Yejide. Darwin is a Rastafarian man who has cut his locks and moved to the big city to find work. The only work he can find is as a grave digger and security guard for the city's largest and oldest (and most haunted) cemetery. Yejide is one of a line of women whose calling in life is to help the recently departed cross over. As her mother has recently died, that role is now falling to Yejide, though she is somewhat ambivalent about her calling.

Although this is an adult book, I couldn't help but see similarities between it and The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (2008) — minus the literary ties to Kipling's The Jungle Book (1894).

When We Were Birds is Ayanna Lloyd Banwo's debut novel. I hope there are more works from her. I will definitely continue to purchase and read her books.

Five stars

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