That Reminds Me
'I don’t wear my scars, they wear me; wear me down, wear me out, coerce me into increasing their number until they’ve won the war. Sometimes, I think I may just let them.'
That Reminds Me presents the story of a young man named ‘K’ as he navigates through the many phases of his life. Starting from his childhood in care, the book tracks his family conflicts, growing up in Tottenham, his relationships with women, alcoholism, his mental health and how all of these interconnect.
Half poetry, half prose, this collection of fragmentary paragraphs reveals key moments within K’s life. The form was lyrical, beautiful and genuinely unlike anything I’ve read before. The book’s fragmented style is very postmodern and represents K’s remembering of various memories. Owusu has said that he repeats the same memories, often distorting them, to represent how K is remembering a memory over and over again. Some of the memories seem random or without significance. As a reader, we do not know what has come before or what is to follow these memories so it is left up to us to understand why they are meaningful to K.
I do think it is important to approach notions of autobiography in this text with caution. Yes, K lives in North London, as does Owusu, and yes, they both were put into foster care and also have BPD. But, as Owusu has stressed, K’s character is the product of years of research into psychoanalytic and childhood trauma theories. There is a really great interview Owusu did with Daze and I would highly recommend reading it if you are looking to know more about the book’s context. In this interview, the author reveals that he named his protagonist ‘K’ so that he could be anyone. This is also a nod to K’s Ghanaian heritage since in Ghanaian culture, the names with ‘K’ are boys’ names that depend on the day they were born.
One thing I particularly appreciated in That Reminds Me is how Owusu is unapologetic for his references to Ghanaian culture and popular film and media. At the beginning of every chapter, the narrator starts by addressing Anansi, a knowledgeable trickster from West African folklore. He also addresses people as cousin or aunty even when they are not his blood relation out of respect. In the Daze interview, he notes how he wanted to ‘infuse Ghanaian culture in every chapter’ and that he refused to make a glossary because if you want to know what something means, you can just look it up.
The research elements of this book are particularly impressive. In That Reminds Me, Owusu has set the text over a course of seven years. This came about after he read that the first seven years of a child’s life are integral to their development and the subsequent decisions they will make in their adult life. He explores various types of trauma but in particular the effect of adoption and being placed into a completely different culture to his own. This is shown through some very uncomfortable scenes at the beginning of the text where the foster mum (who is white) doesn’t know how to take care of her Black foster children’s hair and skin.
This is definitely a book that needs to be reread and revisited to fully appreciate all of the references and coded metaphors. I think it’s long overdue that we are seeing more Black British men’s voices in literature and I really can’t wait to read Owusu’s next novel, Teaching My Brother To Read, which is set to be published next year.