That Reminds Me by Derek Owusu is the kind of book that makes you wish you were better read so you could identity a reference point for it. Owusu’s writing is at once sophisticated and raw, reminiscent of another era. Even still, this account is very specific, unique. It belongs to London, although an almost ignored perspective.
K, the world is not yours…who does the world belong to? Not you. So why do you worry?
A young K leaves a care home and the only person he has known as a mother- he has to question who he really is. Where is home, who is home? His biological mother and brother? What identity is he coming into as a British Ghanaian? What can he accept of himself, of his mental breakdowns? There are so many things he doesn’t love about himself and you do find your heart breaking for the innocence of it. What is beautiful about That Reminds Me is that it seems though K is growing to be fully accepting – or at least knowing-of himself in all his complexities, painful as it is.
Just the writing too, is beautiful. Sometimes feels like you are holding a friend’s hand and hoping the best for him, even though you know the book has already been written. Whatever was going to happen has already happened so in a way, your compassion is irrational. There were a lot of lines and passages I read two or three times. In a series of vignettes, That Reminds Me takes us with K from his life in a rural care home to his mother’s home in Tottenham. He discovers his family, his sexuality and masculinity. Parts of it reminds me a bit of the film The Last Tree in which the protagonist also leaves a rural foster home to join his mother in urban London.
“Suddenly, it wasn’t just my suffering confined to my pad; I wrote Celie out of her story and added her to mine, with the last drops of ink gave us both a father neither of us had.”
K on the impact of The Colour Purple as a boy
In That Reminds Me, Derek Owusu writes sections in what seems like of mix prose and verses. All very poetic in their imagery, all indicative of someone coming to terms with their self in reluctant fragments. The stages of K’s maturity in the book seem to be separated by passages dedicated to Anansi- an icon in Ghanaian folklore. I loved that nod to his culture, as well as the Twi and mentions of food. It all made the book even more sincere. Some passages are deeply touching. His bonding with his brother as a baby, his questions for his parents, his experiences of being close to lovers. It feels like it’s coming from the heart and you wonder how much of it this semi autobiography is Derek and how much of it is K.
That Reminds Me does seem like Derek Owusu is baring a soul. Seeing that level of vulnerability on paper invites you not only to empathise with the writing- but also to confront what it is about yourself that holds you from being as open. All of this in only 113 pages.
-Unlocked my phone and deleted her number. The small amount of emotion in her voice was loud enough to scare me away, ear suddenly raised like those of suspicious prey. I couldn’t burden my therapist or know that I had the power to – so therapist, I unburden you; yours was a shoulder that was supposed to stay dry; There are some people that you shouldn’t see cry
Reading it, I did feel like there is a section that needs to be built in available popular literature- Black British Masculinity. I realised that some of the locations, language and events seemed so familiar. Derek Owusu writes of the Tottenham Riots of 2011, of pubs, Nokias and the office environment. That side, I recognised- but there is a gap in alot of shelves that should be filled by Black men speaking more candidly of their day to day experiences. Especially in terms of mental health.
I’d been a fan of Mostly Lit podcast for so long, I didn’t know Owusu had this talent in him! At the very least, the honesty and intimacy will make you want to understand K. I think because I picked this book up on a whim one Saturday, I wasn’t expecting it to be so powerful but it really was.
That Reminds Me By Derek Owusu published by Merky Books 2019