I requested this debut novel by Jyoti Patel, who won the #Merky Books New Writers’ Prize in 2021, attracted by its themes of family and identity. Although it centres on a young person, it’s not one of those struggling millennials novels but a story about generations and the stories they tell or don’t tell. It did not disappoint, and reminded me of Sairish Hussain’s “The Family Tree” or Kasim Ali’s “Good Intentions” with their multicultural and university settings.

Jyoti Patel – “The Things that we Lost”

(25 October 2022, NetGalley)

There is no one left to buy her time. He will always want to know more about his father, and she must find a way to let him. But she does not know how she can do this without holding some of the truth back; she could not bear to burden hm with all she knows. It would be too much. It would shatter something in him, like it did her. It would only destroy him.

We start this engaging novel encountering one of a series of microaggressions which will be scattered through the book, reminding us of the daily onslaught people racialised as black and brown often have to weather. Avani, after a university lecture, is surprised by a fellow student shoving an ankle tattoo of India in her face and wittering on about her trip to Goa. This is in 1990, and yet in 2017, Avani’s son Nik, who is of dual heritage and part of a warm, mixed friendship group at home, is enduring open racism from his university flatmate as well as incidents of microaggression (and moments of huge warmth from other people even not quite of his culture who he encounters). But that’s not the only thing he has to endure – his grandfather has just died after trying to tell him something about his dad, who died before it was even know Avani was pregnant.

Nik has a key and an empty house to check, but things only come together when Avani’s with him and she’s horrified at the secret his grandfather has kept all these years. And as the story progresses and Nik tries to hold it together to get to university while Avani tries to maintain the silence she’s held over her perceived blame for her husband’s death and mulls over her escape from her abusive mother, who had been furious about her inter-racial relationship and marriage, and her beloved Elliot’s escape from his own dreadful parents, more objects are found that were saved, and more relationships fracture, while others grow.

Nik has been looking for father figures through his life, and now his grandfather’s gone he thinks of his stepdad Paul – however, he gets to see Paul through new, more adult eyes. Thank goodness for his good friends, old school and college mates and a couple of new university friends, as well as his friend Will’s dad, a found family he will be glad of. His growing anxiety and depression are not helped by being at university in a small, very monocultural city after growing up in multicultural Harrow, and we’re left hoping he’ll be able to transfer, as his cousin also did.

So there’s a lot going on in this book but it’s not cluttered and not at all writing-course-y, but flows naturally with themes of friendship and family and friendship within family pushing to the fore. There’s a beautiful redemptive moment with an uncle who had seemed to have become almost a cliche, and there’s a very nice dog which doesn’t have anything awful happen to it (phew). We’re not left with all the ends neatly tied, which I liked, but with enough resolution and hope to make it a positive as well as an interesting read.

Thank you to Random House UK / Merky Books for selecting me to read this novel through NetGalley in return for an honest review. “The Things that we Lost” was published on 12 January 2023.