Aftershocks by Nadia Owusu

Aftershocks is an incredible debut memoir from Whiting Award winner Nadia Owusu that measures the ever-expanding vibrations of the experiences and traumas that shaped the fault lines that crisscross a woman’s adulthood.   

Beginning with her young experiences being abandoned by her mother and subsequently brought up by her father silently suffering from a brain tumor up until his death in her adolescence, Owusu brings the audience on her journey of self-discovery pitted with the dangers of magnitude that a young woman of color faces from independence, to education, cat calls to assault, healthy relationships to bad choices, and peppers a strong contextual cultural history of her homes in Massachusetts, New York, Rome, London, Uganda, and Tanzania throughout. There are harrowing tales from her family’s experiences in the Armenian Genocide, near-escapes from a restaurant terror attacks and the twin towers on 9/11, and the gripping fears of learning her brother was arrested – a black man in America – for a crime he didn’t commit.  

Owusu swirls these experiences and historical ruminations around our heads from a blue chair, pulling each tale like Scheherazade from lessons woven with rich beauty and terrible traumas that seem almost impossible to comprehend from such a short life. Owusu guides us through her process of her mind’s rifts, subsequent repairing, and the destructive aftershocks that reemerge with every new moment requiring introspection. 

This book is a gorgeous work of creative nonfiction as much as it is a lesson on colonial history, a remembrance on the horrors of genocide, a commentary on the state and history of race relations in the United States and elsewhere, an indictment of the effects of public health / law / and economic policy on the livelihoods of people of color, a memoir about love and family, a conceptualization of the long-term effects of abandonment and loneliness, a  case study on epigenetics, and a firsthand portrait of how difficult mental illness makes navigating modern life in a complex, globalized world.  

Owusu’s prose, and seamless dreamlike transitions between countries, topics, and genres purely illustrate her mastery over her craft. This is a tale of truth. This is a journey. This is a heart-wrenching personal history. A perfect debut sure to send shockwaves across the world in January 2021, and keep aftershocks rumbling for quite some time.

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