When We Were Birds

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What to expect

Brought to you by Penguin.

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

Critics Review

  • 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, author of 'Black Leopard, Red Wolf'
  • 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

    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 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

    Monique Roffey, author of 'The Mermaid of Black Conch'
  • 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

    Robert Jones Jr, author of 'The Prophets'
  • 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

    Tessa McWatt, author of 'The Snow Line'

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