I grew up in two different cultures: my parents’ culture and my hometown’s culture.
Each came with its own traditions and customs, which occasionally clashed. There were times when I initially questioned the need for certain customs, which raises the question: Why do we stick to the traditions that have been passed on to us? I think it has less to do with the traditions themselves, and more with the people who instill them in us. More than anything else, traditions bind us to the generations before us, and keep them present in our lives long after they are gone.
This is precisely the case in the new remarkable reading from the forthcoming author Ayanna Lloyd Banwo.
In his debut novel “When We Were Birds”, Banwo weaves a beautiful story of inheritance, love and the connections that death itself cannot sever. The story takes place in Trinidad and focuses on two main characters, Yejide and Darwin, and their commitment to the families who raised them. Our heroine, Yejide, knows all too well about family commitments, as do all the women in her family. St. The Bernard women all inherit the same inheritance: When a storm comes that signals the passing of her mother, the sacred duty to lead the deceased over to the afterlife passes to the next generation.
Yejide’s mother, Petronella, has always been distant and prefers the company of her twin sister, Geraldine, to the company of her own daughter. When her aunt Geraldine dies, Yejide hopes her mother will finally embrace her; but when Yejide seeks her out, she finds Geraldine by her mother’s side in death, just as she was in life. Shortly after Geraldine dies, Petronella follows suit. Petronella reluctantly guides Yejide the night after her death and shows her how to master her legacy. While talking to her deceased mother, Yejide becomes one with the dead as they reach out to her. When she finds herself in one of the local cemeteries, it is not the dead she is attracted to, but a man: a living, breathable man who feels equally attracted to Yejide.
Darwin is newly hired at Fidelis, a local cemetery with rich history and striking scenery. Working in a cemetery was not his first choice, but he could not afford to be picky. His mother can hardly sew because of the pain in her hands, and new orders are few and far between. Despite her pain, the last thing she wants is to see her son work in a cemetery and live in the city. As a Rastafarian, Darwin’s upbringing forbids him to deal with the dead; but he is desperate and accepts the job knowing that his mother will object. It does not take long before he realizes that there is more to Fidelis than one can see.
When he sees Yejide one dark and stormy night, a storm waves around her, his mind becomes engrossed in thoughts of her. Confused, he can not understand what he saw the night before. When they finally meet, they quickly go from strangers to lovers. As the events unfold, both protagonists are tested in different ways. Will their love resist the obstacles in their paths, or will they succumb to the external forces that want to keep them apart?
I really enjoyed reading this amazing debut from Banwo and look forward to her future works. Banwo’s characters are complex and filled with clear voices that will resonate with readers. Regardless of culture or background, readers will identify with the family values that are prevalent in this beautiful and gripping story. I highly recommend adding “When We Were Birds” to your list of books you should read this season. Happy reading!
Salem Gebil works in the adult services department at the Champaign Public Library.