When We Were Birds

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A mythic love story set in Trinidad & Tobago, Ayanna Lloyd Banwo's radiant debut introduces two unforgettable outsiders brought together by their connection with the dead.

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 must 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 his ailing mother can no longer work and the only job he can find is gravedigging, he must betray the life she 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, Port Angeles' largest and oldest cemetery, where the dead lie uneasy in their graves and a reckoning with fate beckons them both. A masterwork of lush imagination and immersive lyricism, shot through with the rhythm of the island, When We Were Birds is a spellbinding novel about inheritance, loss and love's seismic power to heal.