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Aftershocks: A Memoir, by Nadia Owusu. 

April 14, 2020

Aftershocks: A Memoir, by Nadia Owusu.  Simon and Schuster, 2020.

5 stars FAVORITE


A powerful memoir in which a young biracial woman tells of her childhood broken by the  losses and cultural dislocations from frequent moves across Africa and Europe and how she heals herself by creating a new story, closer to reality with less blame and anger.

Nadia Owusu is the daughter of Ghanaian man and an Armenian woman.  Her father was a U.N. diplomat and she spent her childhood in a variety of cities before coming to the United States for college.  She attended Pace College, Hunter College and has a MFA from Mountaintop.  She now lives in Brooklyn working in social justice and urban planning.  Her previous book is a group of lyrical essays.

In Aftershocks, Owusu relates how her childhood left her rootless and deeply troubled.  Her narration is told from the perspective of herself in her twenties, frozen and reflecting on situations and events that shaped her.  The brokenness of her vignettes reflects the randomness of her memory.  She tells her stories within a framework of definitions of earthquakes and other earth-shaking, geological events.  Clearly she sees her life as broken by personal earthquakes.  More subtly her descriptions reveal the brokenness of the African countries in which she lived and which she describes.

The first big loss of Owusu’s life occurred when she was three and her mother left the family.  She turned to her father who sent her and her sister to relatives in England.  When he remarried, the girls returned to live with the couple in Rome and then around Africa, staying with relatives and following his U.N. assignments.  Her father was the dominant and most stable figure in her life until his death from cancer when she was thirteen. Despite her ongoing hostility with her stepmother, she remained in Rome until she came to study in New York City.

For me the last section of her book was the most powerful.  In part she relates what it meant to be a young attractive African woman in New City.  More importantly she takes readers through her struggle to understand her past traumas and move beyond them.  Explicitly she describes herself rewriting her personal story into a version which allows her to forgive and move ahead without the blame and anger which had plagued her.

I was impressed by Owusu’s ability to use writing to transcend and heal from her pain. I recommend her memoir heartily.   For anyone interested in the structuring of memoirs, this is a must read.

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 14, 2020 2:05 pm

    A wonderful review and sounds like an interesting memoir, it sounds like she understands shamanic philosophy, or is at the very least a spiritual young woman, to have rewritten her own narrative, a most enlightened and necessary thing to do for anyone living with the effects of trauma or a troubled past. Thank you for highlighting this one, I will seek it out.

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