I have always had a tricky relationship with the concept of family.
It would be safe to assume that the layered dynamics that exist amongst my own familial relationships, have a direct impact on my framing of what it means to live, grow and exist with other people who share your DNA. My upbringing was not necessarily conventional, but it was familiar. There were cultural markers that I could identify and match with the experiences of my Ghanaian British friends, and there were crossovers amongst other friends who were also children of immigrants.
Still, being part of a family was something that I struggled to make a lot of sense of, because it was framed by the histories of my parents, of their parents, of the journeys they took when they left Ghana, and of all the emotions, trauma and hopes that come with that. I was a product of my environment, but also a product of theirs by-proxy. The whole thing felt complex and pervasive and like most things I am trying to work out, I found myself writing and reading through it.
I found two beautifully crafted characters in Ayanna Lloyd Banwo’s novel When We Were Birds. We follow Darwin and Yejide’s parallel stories of what happens when grief, tradition and belief collide whilst the future of the family rests on your shoulders.
“Her voice was what he imagine lambswool feel like, but when she wasn’t looking he would find a place to himself and cry long, long tears to think of his mother dead, alone in her bed, and that he would have to leave the house he grow up in because it was just he and she and who would take her away?”
In Mona Arshi’s Somebody Loves You, I found a moving and poetic portrait of Ruby, a young girl who chooses not to speak as she keenly observes the fractures in her family’s facade.
“‘Just come in,’ my father was pleading to my mother, ‘it’s so late, it’s so cold, and you must be hungry.’ My mother didn’t appear to be listening. Her gloveless hands were poking the borders. I wanted to see my mother’s face. I wanted to ask why she didn’t like our house anymore but then the visitors arrive quietly, they stand like giant spectral trees and surround her.”
And in Omar Sakr’s Son of Sin, I sunk deeply into the life of his protagonist Jamal; a young queer Arab muslim man nestled inside the chaotic and sometimes suffocating bosom of his family. He tries to grow both up and out, and we witness his almost drowning as he searches for acceptance amongst his kin and eventually for himself.
“Jamal sat near them, as usual. He didn’t want to join the men. They were out there pretending to be serious, the patriarchs, the providers, but he knew they’d been sent out of the house because they were useless, because they got in the way of the actual work, and because the women wanted to talk without being interrupted.”
These are the stories that have revealed gems when it comes to writing about family, and that’s what we’ll be exploring in my online masterclass on Writing Family on Saturday 10 June.
Book your place now, and let’s write our way through the complexity of kin.
Final tickets available to book on our web page here:
pp. 39 – 40, When We Were Birds by Ayanna Lloyd Banwo
pp. 46 – 47, Somebody Loves You by Mona Arshi
p. 32 – Son of Sin by Omar Sakr.
Published: 9 May 2023