Nadia Owusu’s Memoir, Aftershocks, Bares Her Story of Loss, Race, and Identity

The Ghanaian and Armenian American writer’s debut has been praised for its lyricism.
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Nadia Owusu - Aftershocks

Aftershocks is Nadia Owusu’s first full-length book, a memoir that recounts the many lives she’s lived. Owusu tells the story of a life wrought with abandonment, personal loss, and a search for identity.

“I have lived in disaster and disaster has lived in me,” she writes in it. “My share of natural disaster was minor, my share of war abstracted. I felt numb during the terror in Manhattan, but my legs carried me. Almost always, I have found a hand to hold. Our shared languages are thunder and reverberation.” The New York Times called the book “gorgeous and unsettling.”

Here is a synopsis:

When Nadia Owusu was two years old her mother abandoned her and her baby sister and fled from Tanzania back to the US. When she was thirteen her beloved Ghanaian father died of cancer. She and her sister were left alone, with a stepmother they didn’t like, adrift.

Nadia Owusu is a woman of many languages, homelands and identities. She grew up in Rome, Dar-es-Salaam, Addis Ababa, Kumasi, Kampala and London. And for every new place there was a new language, a new identity and a new home. At times she has felt stateless, motherless and identity-less. At others, she has had multiple identities at war within her. It’s no wonder she started to feel fault lines in her sense of self. It’s no wonder that those fault lines eventually ruptured.

Aftershocks is the account of how she hauled herself out of the wreckage. It is the intimate story behind the news of immigration and division dominating contemporary politics. Nadia Owusu’s astonishingly moving and incredibly timely memoir is a nuanced portrait of globalisation from the inside in a fractured world in crisis.

Owusu told The Guardian, “I wrote Aftershocks as a way to process trauma – my own and intergenerational trauma. I wanted to try and understand how it affects people and communities – for example, I thought about the context in which my mother was making decisions, coming from a family with genocide in its background.”

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She continued, “A big part of writing this was to confront the grief of losing [my parents] and the loss of all of my homes and the sadness I carried with me. As I processed my grief and worked to understand the collective trauma of colonisation and the Armenian genocide, it helped me to extend more compassion. I realised that a lot of stories I’d been given about the places that my family came from were incomplete or not the whole truth. It was important to me to interrogate the narratives I’d been given.”

Nadia Owusu. Photo from nadiaowusu.com.
Nadia Owusu. Photo from nadiaowusu.com.

Nadia Owusu is an urban planner. She is the recipient of a 2019 Whiting Award. Her lyric essay “So Devilish a Fire” won the Atlas Review chapbook contest. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Granta, The Guardian, Bon Appétit, Electric Literature, The Paris Review Daily, and Catapult.

The Washington Post described the book as “Full of narrative risk and untrammeled lyricism.” Oprah Magazine said, “In a literary landscape rich with diaspora memoirs, Owusu’s painful yet radiant story rises to the forefront.”

Owusu weaves her story around the metaphor of earthquakes, with section titles such as “Foreshocks,” “First Earthquake,” “Faults,” and “Aftershocks.” She explained: “I wanted to show how our private disasters happen in the midst of larger forces that shape our lives without us realising – from natural disasters to war and genocide and terrorism.”

Aftershocks was published by Simon & Schuster in January 2021.

Paula Willie-Okafor
Paula Willie-Okafor is a staff writer at Open Country Mag. She is a student at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where she is custodian of The Writers' Community (TWC). Her writing has appeared in Kissing Dynamite Magazine and Praxis Magazine.

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