Born in Tanzania, educated in Surrey: sudden displacements drive this author’s multifaceted memoir
For Nadia Owusu, the question “where are you from” does not have a straightforward answer. Rather it prompts an eight-paragraph rundown of numerous cities and countries; lists of family members spread out around the world, and half-sisters and half-brothers with multihyphenated identities – “Armenian-Somali-American”. “Confused?” she writes in the opening of this memoir. “Me too.” The sudden displacements in her life – from Tanzania to England, then to Italy, Ethiopia and Uganda – can feel like earthquakes that shake the ground beneath her feet, threatening to unleash chaos. Meanwhile, Owusu’s mind has developed a seismometer of its own, always on the lookout for threats, guarding against her persistent fear of plunging into an “all-consuming abyss”.
Aftershocks begins with the author, now 39, recalling a week spent in a blue rocking chair at her New York apartment: at the time she is 28 and the abyss feels near. Her stepmother, Anabel, has recently visited from Tanzania, and at a restaurant in Chinatown has broken the news that Owusu’s father who died when she was 13, she believed from brain cancer, had actually died of Aids. “You think your precious father was so perfect?” she asks Owusu, suggesting he must have had affairs. The revelation – the truth of which is unclear – is too much for Owusu to handle; she wonders whether she really knew her father. Strolling around the city one afternoon, she happens across the frayed rocking chair. Her father liked this shade of blue, she remembers. She brings the chair home, ignoring her roommate’s reservations about bed bugs, and sits on it, not leaving for days. It is home.