I received a scholarship from Lighthouse Writers to complete a four week course Reading as a Writer – Aftershocks by Nadia Owusu. It’s taught by Angelique Steven who is another brilliant memoir writer.
I really hadn’t heard of the book before this course but I was drawn to it as what I’d read from The New York Times review was that Pilate Dead from Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon is mentioned and her missing navel.
In Song of Solomon Pilate’s “cut off from her people early” left without a trace of her physical connection to her mother. Pilate spends her life adrift not making any real connections with other people and places rootless and unrooted. But the flips side of this is independence and freedom.
Nadia Owusu, through Afershocks, explores through her memoir her own rootlessness. What does it mean to be rooted? A daughter of an Armenian-American and a Ghanaian UN agency worker, Nadia is born into movement, travel diversity and trauma. She’s becomes fascinated with place because no place belonged to her.
Aftershocks takes it premise and structure from earthquakes, with shakes, rumbles foreshocks and upheaval affecting the narrative as it moves backwards and forwards in time. The present is marked by Nadia spending a week in a blue chair just rocking as she suffers a breakdown, after her whole world is devastated when she learns a different reason for her father’s death. A father she idolised since her mother abandoned her at the age of two and was fleeting in and out of her life since then.
I’m so enjoying reading this book as a reader but also as a writer as this means I’m carried along with the narrative, the shakes and rumbles along fault lines, at the same time as deconstructing it, exploring underneath the lines to find out how Nadia put this beauty together.
This is all helping me think about my own hybrid memoir and how this will be structured but also it’s giving me permission to put in stories and experiences that maybe I was shying away from before.
In the Author’s Note at the beginning of the book, Nadia states, “I write towards truth, but my memory is prone to bouts of imaginations. Other’s remember events differently. I can only tell my version.” This so hit a chord with me. A disclaimer at the beginning to let the read know this is the truth, but how one individual feels it and it might be embellished a bit.
And then when someone in the course group mentioned how they find Nadia so narcissistic in her writing, only focusing on her thoughts and feelings. I was like ‘HELLO!” This is her memoir, her story to tell, because who else is going to tell it?
Angelique, the course tutor said, while writing a memoir you walk a fine line. The line between narcissism and humility. When you can create the balance between the two extremes then you have yourself a brilliant memoir.
I can only say I’m working on it. And that brings me joy to say that, I’m working on it.
I would recommending this book, Aftershocks, as it’s so well written and even though details an individual’s life experiences up to the age of 28, there are still universal themes and episodes within this text that will not only draw you in with wonder and awe, but will also get you wandering down your own path of memories and natural disasters to try understand your own nuanced neurosis and make-up and sense of self.