Nataka Book Discussion: When We Were Birds by Ayanna Lloyd Banwo

Updated: Jul 5

We reviewed this stunning work by Ayanna which brings together the characters of Darwin and Yejide, the eternal subject of end of life, and all the ceremony, custom and taboo around it, or the nonchalant approach by others. This is a brilliant novel shining a light on living.


A historical setting, inherited beliefs and folklore loom large over the subject of death as does every day life in Port Angeles. We expected the exposition to be driven by the unknown and the unknowable. What we get is an exploration in 'When We Were Birds' of life mixed with death resulting in one of the most thought-provoking and engaging books we picked up this year.


The language follows the local West Indian dialect giving the characters an original voice readers connect with. For others, this can make the book more demanding, but it pays off. Stories are rooted in places, people and cultures and to travel with the writer, one has to accept the invitation first and the mode of transport as one reader @suckerforcoffe put it.


We found that the book works on many levels, the literal sense where the characters confront end of life in difference settings, and the spiritual sense, where the end of life has a significance that goes back to the earliest settlers and whence they came. Some of the observations we raise above - the prose and language in the book and the meaning of the story - have ignited a debate among readers. Let the constructive and illuminating discussions begin ! Add your thoughts below.

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