An earthquake isn’t a single moment. The event itself might be destructive, rending the earth apart and slamming it together along fault lines, but the effects begin before that moment and can extend long after the fracture.
Nadia Owusu plays with this metaphor in Aftershocks. Her father’s death when Owusu was in her early teens was a central tremor in her life. Owusu adored her father, whose work with the United Nations carried the family across continents. Her relationships with her mothers were more complicated: her birth mother, who abandoned Owusu and her sister after their parents’ divorce; her aunt, who took the girls in afterward; and her stepmother, with whom Owusu competed for her father’s attention. Later, when her stepmother suggested that Owusu’s father may not have died of the cancer listed on his death certificate, Owusu wrestled with her understanding of the family that raised her.
“Sometimes I think my memories are more about what didn’t happen than what did, who wasn’t there than who was,” Owusu writes. “My memories are about leaving and being left. They are about absence.”
Owusu’s complex racial and national identities also inform her sense of self. The nationalities of her Ghanaian father, Armenian American birth mother and Tanzanian stepmother influence Owusu’s daily life, and moving between continents—Africa, Europe, North America—leaves her feeling even more out of place. Owusu, a Whiting Award-winning writer and urban planner, explores how those cultures have intersected with and influenced her personal experiences.
Aftershocks is an intimate work told in an imaginative style, with the events that shaped its author rippling throughout her nonlinear story. The structure mimics the all-consuming effect that a moment—a personal earthquake—can have on a life.