I remember seeing Aftershocks by Nadia Owusu in a bookstore and walking past it. I glanced initially, took note of the cover when I entered as it was on a shelf just on the right side of the entrance. Later that evening, I got home and saw an IGstory posted by Sbcbookclub where she visited the exact same bookstore and got this book. I was shocked at the coincidence and waited to see her thoughts on the book but before then, I went on Goodreads to read the synopsis. From the synopsis, I found out it wasn’t fiction (I assumed it was) and that I wanted to read it. I avoided all the reviews because I did not want anything to dilute or ruin my expectations.
Three weeks later, I walk into the same bookstore and the lady I met there said ‘Do you know what you want to get? Do you need help finding a book?’ I smiled and told her ‘Oh no. Thank you. I came here specifically for one book and I hope it’s not sold out’. I ended up leaving the bookstore with four books but that’s not the point of this short story. That my dear friends is how I got my copy of Aftershocks by Nadia Owusu.
” Nadia Owusu grew up all over the world—from Rome and London to Dar-es-Salaam and Kampala. When her mother abandoned her when she was two years old, the rejection caused Nadia to be confused about her identity. Even after her father died when she was thirteen and she was raised by her stepmother, she was unable to come to terms with who she was since she still felt motherless and alone.
When Nadia went to university in America when she was eighteen she still felt as if she had so many competing personas that she couldn’t keep track of them all without cracking under the pressure of trying to hold herself together. A powerful coming-of-age story that explores timely and universal themes of identity, Aftershocks follows Nadia’s life as she hauls herself out of the wreckage and begins to understand that the only ground firm enough to count on is the one she writes into existence. “
Nadia Owusu tells the story of her life in Aftershocks. Born in Tanzania to a Ghanaian father and an Armenian-American mother and raised in different parts of the world by her aunt Harriet, her stepmother, Anabel, Nadia shares what life was like at different stages of her life. She does not tell her story in chronological order but it personally did not matter to me because that was not my expectation. I never remember my childhood stories and events in the order in which they occur and if you do, you’re probably a serial killer (Just kidding).
She was rejected by her mother at the age of two and over a decade later when she lost the most important person in her life, her father, or as she referred to a few times in the book ‘her god’ to cancer. She was pretty much raised by her stepmother even though their relationship was turbulent. Nadia searches for identity and a sense of home in the countries she had to live in and the people she knew and met. Her father was a United Nations expatriate which meant they moved around a lot.
As Nadia takes us on this journey, she explores the history and culture of these places, from the Ashantis, slave trade, pre and post-colonialism in Ghana to the genocide in Armenia and the civil war in Ethiopia. Nadia goes into details with this history and although some might say it distracted them from HER story, I think it was a necessary part of her story. In those ‘history lessons’, you see her search for a home. Her desire to belong to a place. Her confusion about her identity. You see that she made a conscious effort to learn about her origin to learn about places she lived in. In Ethiopia, she was insulated and protected from the chaos of the civil war in her highly secure UN-provided house where she lived a life of privilege which she fully acknowledges.
Nadia talks about her mental health and the trauma she encounters in her life. The way she talks about loss and grief is this book is SOMETHING. I related to so many things and I did not know whether to be sad or angry. When she said “At the first sign of disaster — the chorus of barking dogs, the glass of water shuddering on the table — we scream until the silence is tolerable. We cannot prevent what happens next but we can forestall feeling the full force of it. We can distract ourselves from the terror with the awful sound of our own voices.”, I felt seen. She put into words how it feels like to know pain and loss is coming but take it in doses so as not to get overwhelmed and consumed by it.
I can go on and on about this book and that’s the beauty of how she tells her story. I’m glad about the way she ended the book. The peace and closure, the reunion and acceptance, the acknowledgement of everyone who has impacted her life even in the tiniest way. She ends her book with this ” Look into my eyes. See my glowing skin. My pores are open. I am made of the earth, flesh, ocean, blood and bone of all the places I tried to belong to and all the people I long for. I am pieces. I am whole. I am home.”
This was a stunning memoir. If you like memoirs (or not actually), you should go pick this up. You’re welcome. I gave Aftershocks by Nadia Owusu 4.5 stars. (I will be adding this to the list of memoirs you should read.)