Nadia Owusu grew up all over the world with a father who worked for the United Nations. This plus her mother's abandonment, her father's death when she was a teenager, and her stepmother's cruelty all left her feeling homeless—a feeling compounded by learning a secret about her father, one that triggered a breakdown in her 20s that she explores here.
There are other threads, or cracks in the earth of her life, that she weaves in and out of these narratives, so that at times there is a sense that we are wandering away from the main question a chapter opened with. Owusu always brings us back just on time, so that what seems at first like free association is revealed, instead, as potent context. The effect ties directly into another of Owusu's main themes: Storytelling is how we understand ourselves, others, and the worlds we live in, and any story that is too simple or that holds no contradictions is suspect, for that means it lacks the nuance necessary for a deeper understanding. In her capable writing, stories become nearly tangible objects she holds to the light, turns over and over, eager to discover a never before glimpsed sparkle or a surprising divot in their familiar shapes.
For a young woman whose foundations were shaken several times in her life — including numerous moves to locales with literal tectonic rumblings along with the more metaphorical tremors of civil unrest — [Owusu's] approach effectively portrays the inner angst of individuals who have grown up amid trauma and have learned to be vigilant, to read the slightest shifts as foreboding. Owusu’s narrative deftly demonstrates a keen sense of others’ emotional states ... It takes a skillful hand to weave complex concepts so seamlessly into a narrative, and Owusu executes this masterfully. By relating the events of her upbringing, she is also telling the story of her father and the history of the countries that had become home to her ... While Owusu displays a reverence for her background, she also addresses some potentially harmful cultural practices ... Unable to find stable ground, Owusu centers her narrative on her body, which she brilliantly reclaims in these sections ... you will journey across countries, hear numerous languages, and feel how deep a loss can go.
Owusu’s history gives her the authority to write about many identities with confidence ... Owusu makes this period of reckoning and high emotional drama the axis around which the rest of the book revolves. Dedicated to 'mad black women everywhere,' bursting with flashbacks, flash-forwards, research-based asides, and returns to the Blue Chair, Aftershocks is all over the place. Which is exactly the identity it claims. Full of narrative risk and untrammeled lyricism, it fulfills the grieving author’s directive to herself: to construct a story that reconstructs her world.