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Things They Lost

Longlisted for the 2023 Dylan Thomas Prize

Okwiri Oduor



‘Magical, beguiling… Carries echoes of Toni Morrison’s Beloved‘ Guardian


A Vulture ‘Book We Can’t Wait to Read in 2022’


They had not lost anyone that year, or the ones they had lost were not worth remembering…


Set in the fictional Kenyan town of Mapeli, Things They Lost tells the story of four generations of women, each haunted by the mysterious curse that hangs over the Brown family. At the heart of the novel is Ayosa Ataraxis Brown, twelve years old and the loneliest girl in the world.


Okwiri Oduor’s stunningly original debut novel sings with Kenyan folklore and myth as it traces Ayosa’s fragile, toxic relationship with Nabumbo Promise, her mysterious and beguiling mother who comes and goes like tumbleweed: lost, but not quite gone.


  • Publication date: February 2, 2023
  • ISBN: 9780861544912
  • RRP: £9.99
  • Pages: 368
  • Publication date: April 14, 2022
  • ISBN: 9780861543878
  • RRP: £16.99
  • Pages: 368
  • Publication date: April 14, 2022
  • ISBN: 9780861543885
  • RRP: £8.99
  • Pages: 368


'Things They Lost, written by Caine Prize-winning Kenyan author Oduor, defies categorisation... The writing is mesmeric, at times as warm and rhythmic as a lullaby, and filled with gentle, keen observations of the natural world. A book with a big heart that feels like a hug.'

New Internationalist

'An original and dazzling debut novel … A haunting, magical union of Kenyan folklore and the sometimes fragile union between mother and daughter.’

New African

'[A] story that injects the fantastic into the mystery of Kenya's disappearing girls... [Things They Lost] will appeal to any reader who has survived or wants to understand girlhood as a time of complexity, laced with unparalleled creativity and expansion.'


'A soaring debut. Things They Lost is an exhilarating read. I could not put it down.'

Peace Adzo Medie, author of His Only Wife

'From the start, Oduor — a winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing, among other honors — broadcasts her tremendous talents ... Come for the beguiling narrative, and stay for the rich, evocative language.'

Vulture, Most Anticipated of 2022

'Oduor has produced page after page of gorgeous, elegiac prose. Dense and rich as a black Christmas cake and alternately whimsical, sweet and dark, Things They Lost is a complex work, brimming with uncompromisingly African magical realism, about the ambiguity of toxic mother-daughter relationships.' 

New York Times

'What a singular and palpable world, teeming with life and wonder. In exuberant prose, at once witty and poetic, Okwiri Oduor threads a wondrous tale of girlhood, longing, and community with the ghosts that both love and hurt us. I read this book with gratefulness and awe! We will be reading Ms. Oduor for years to come.'

Novuyo Rosa Tshuma, author of House of Stone

'In this debut set in late 1980s Kenya, spirits benevolent and malicious rattle in attics and lead people's lives astray. Twelve-year-old Ayosa remembers things from long before her birth when she was just "a wriggling thing". Abandoned by her flighty mother for months at a time, she lives on handouts from neighbours and interprets violent intrusions from the natural world as desire... Rich with myth and the natural landscape of Kenya, this novel is entertaining and innovative.'

The Irish Times

'So profound, its humour shining so bright... A stunning debut!'

Onyeka Nwelue, author of The Strangers of Braamfontein

'Debut author Oduor renders this fantastical world so tangibly it almost leaps off the page – a feat aided by her stunning language... this novel is lively and original; it is a captivating journey from start to finish. A joy to read.'

Kirkus (starred review)

'Such a wonderful work of vivid imagination and gorgeous, lush writing. Oduor weaves a magical world that is so mesmerising I lost myself entirely within the pages. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for something fresh and a bit wild.'

Tendai Huchu, author of The Hairdresser of Harare

'A haunting bond between mother and daughter is examined in Oduor's ambitious debut... Oduor makes loss and familial disappointment palpable through her potent and visceral prose. This keeps the reader holding their breath.'

Publishers Weekly

Okwiri Oduor

Okwiri Oduor was born in Nairobi, Kenya. At the age of 25, she won the Caine Prize for African Writing 2014 for her story ‘My Father’s Head’. Later that year, she was named on the Hay Festival’s Africa39 list of 39 African writers under 40 who would define trends in African literature. She has been a MacDowell Colony fellow, and she received her MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She has a story forthcoming in Granta, and Things They Lost is her debut novel. She lives in Germany.

Author page

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