When Zain Ejiofor Asher was 5, her father—a larger-than-life personality who was training to be a doctor—was touring his Nigerian homeland with his 11-year-old son, Chiwetel. Not long before they were expected home in London, Asher’s pregnant mother, Obiajulu, received a life-changing phone call: The pair had been in a car accident, and only one had survived. Obiajulu had to fly to Nigeria to find out it was her husband who had died.
As Asher writes, “There is tragedy in my story, but my story is not a tragedy. It is a story of grit, grace, and perhaps above all, an extraordinary story of extraordinary triumph that I want to share with the world.” Where the Children Take Us: How One Family Achieved the Unimaginable is an ode to her parents—who both achieved success despite facing civil war and famine—and especially to her mother. Asher is a master storyteller as she interweaves both of her parents’ life stories with her own upbringing. Thoughtful emotion and striking immediacy fill every scene, making for a mesmerizing read from start to finish.
Asher’s parents owned a small pharmacy in London, which Obiajulu continued to run after she became a widow. Meanwhile, her life’s work became ensuring her children’s success, following her firm belief that formal education was key to survival. She began a family book club, requiring each child to read and discuss a book every week. She plastered their walls with inspirational photos of “uplifters”—successful Black people, especially Nigerians. When 9-year-old Asher experienced racism from her peers, her mother sent Asher to live with relatives in Nigeria for two years, a common practice among Nigerians known as “shipping back.” There, she had to walk a mile to a river to fetch water for her family. Electricity was rare, and discipline was omnipresent. As Asher reminisces, “Nigeria, for all its faults, was the perfect place to toughen me up. It was an elite training ground for resilience; the West Point academy of perseverance. Survive in Nigeria for ten years and you can survive anything. Thrive in Nigeria and you can change the world.”
Thanks to Obiajulu’s determination, Asher and her three siblings are doing just that. Asher is an Oxford-educated news anchor for CNN International. Her sister is a physician; her oldest brother, an entrepreneur. And Chiwetel Ejiofor is an actor who received an Oscar nomination for his role in 12 Years a Slave.
It’s important to note that Obiajulu, for all her single-minded focus on achieving excellence—and her sometimes shocking strategies—doesn’t come off as overbearing. She empowered her children to believe in the seemingly impossible and to focus on personal achievement, not competition. Where the Children Take Us is an enlightening and entertaining read that will likely challenge readers to reexamine their views on child rearing and education.