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Publisher's Summary

A mythic love story set in Trinidad, Ayanna Lloyd Banwo's radiant debut is a masterwork of lush imagination and exuberant storytelling—a spellbinding and hopeful novel about inheritance, loss, and love's seismic power to heal.

“Heartwarming and heartbreaking, fantastical and familiar, with characters that burrow their way into your heart and mind with their tragedies and triumphs, When We Were Birds more than sings, more than beams. It 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."—Robert Jones, Jr., New York Times bestselling author of The Prophets 

"A searing symphony of magic and loss, love and hope, where in the middle of death, love comes shiny, sparkling and alive. This book might just heal you."—Marlon James, New York Times bestselling author of Black Leopard, Red Wolf

In the old house on a hill, where the city meets the rainforest, Yejide’s mother is dying. She is leaving behind a legacy that now passes to Yejide: one St Bernard woman in every generation has the power to shepherd the city’s souls into the afterlife. But after years of suffering her mother’s neglect and bitterness, Yejide is looking for a way out.

Raised in the countryside by a devout Rastafarian mother, Darwin has always abided by the religious commandment not to interact with death. He has never been to a funeral, much less seen a dead body. But when the only job he can find is grave digging, he must betray the life his mother built for him in order to provide for them both. Newly shorn of his dreadlocks and his past, and determined to prove himself, Darwin finds himself adrift in a city electric with possibility and danger.

Yejide and Darwin will meet inside the gates of Fidelis, an ancient and sprawling cemetery, where the dead lie uneasy in their graves and a reckoning with fate beckons them both.

©2022 Ayanna Lloyd Banwo (P)2022 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

Named a Most Anticipated Book of 2022 by The Observer, BuzzFeed, Essence, Nylon, Good Housekeeping, Business Insider, NBC, Ms. Magazine, Book Riot, and more
 

"A thoroughly original and emotionally rich examination of love, grief and inheritance…. When We Were Birds is full of life. Ms. Lloyd Banwo ensures that the scenes it hosts are packed with drama, color and tension, particularly in her gripping finale…. The rhythms of Ms. Lloyd Banwo’s narrative voice help keep the reader rapt. Like the corbeaux - vultures which, in the author’s invented mythology, escort dead souls to the afterlife - her novel takes flight and soars." (The Economist)

"[A] spellbinding novel.... The poetic prose in Ayanna Lloyd Banwo’s debut novel captivates from the start.... When We Were Birds is a unique love story whose magical setting in Trinidad takes center stage." (Real Simple)

"[A] masterly debut novel. It announces an important new voice in fiction, at once grounded and mythic in its scope and carried by an incantatory prose style that recalls Arundhati Roy’s hugely impactful debut, The God of Small Things…. Her writing draws on grief, but Lloyd Banwo’s literary gift lies in her capacity to transfigure that emotion - to conjure a cosmic landscape where the living coexist among the dead." (The Observer)

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What listeners say about When We Were Birds

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very good book

This was one of the best books I ever listened to, I think because it brought back memories of home to me.
it was very relatable and flowed very nicely. At the beginning, it was a bit hard to understand Darwin's roll, but as it developed I really got the sense of it all.
very good book

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Please write more books!!

This was by far my favorite book so far this year! Ayanna’s language is unbelievably descriptiveand lyrical. I would recommend a listen over a read in this case to hear the gorgeous Trinidadian accent of the narrators. The story has elements of magical realism, the universal, and the out right original. I can not wait to read more work from Banwo.

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Good Story

This was a really interesting book. Caribbean culture is so similar, although most of us are separated by bodies of water. I remember reading Zora Neal Hurston's Tell My Horse and the duppies and zombies of Jamaica and Haiti, and this book brought back some of the excitement I felt when reading TMH (non-fiction). If you are also from the Caribbean, this book will have you laughing at some of the narrative, because you can see your own family members speaking some of the lines and behaving the way the characters did.
Frayed Mother-daughter relationship, sweet love and support, and some villains. I would have wanted to hear more about how the birds really played into this story and how certain characters got their 'power', but maybe the author plans on coming out with parallel stories?

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Book of the dead

Walking dead, talking dead, smoking-cigarettes dead. Dead bodies in bags, dead bodies in coffins, dead bodies in a graveyard. Probable murder, attempted murder, prevented murder. All amid a budding romance. What a strange book.

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Gripping story

This was a gripping story with just enough romance and lore to keep me engaged. Really enjoyed the characters and want to know more about how their “story” continues. Great listen!

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Amazing!!!!!!!

Thank you, Ayanna, for the wonder that is this novel. I was enraptured in the story, in the sound of my accent telling it. just... thank you!