A mythic love story set in Trinidad, Ayanna Lloyd Banwo's radiant debut is a masterwork of lush imagination and exuberant storytelling—a spellbinding and hopeful novel about inheritance, loss, and love's seismic power to heal.
“Heartwarming and heartbreaking, fantastical and familiar, with characters that burrow their way into your heart and mind with their tragedies and triumphs, When We Were Birds more than sings, more than beams. It 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."—Robert Jones, Jr., New York Times bestselling author of The Prophets
"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, New York Times bestselling author of Black Leopard, Red Wolf 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 has the power to 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 the only job he can find is grave digging, he must betray the life his mother 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, an ancient and sprawling cemetery, where the dead lie uneasy in their graves and a reckoning with fate beckons them both.