Sympathy is more complicated then we think: A Review of THE THINGS WE NEVER SAY: A Family History, by Amara Nicole Okolo.

Alithnayn Abdulkareem has written this review on Amara Nicole Okolo’s spectacular memoir story – THE THINGS WE NEVER SAY; A FAMILY HISTORY, published in August by Catapult. You can read here if you haven’t or just for a refresher to understand it better. The story is so heavy and so dense a second read has had me nearly reciting the ninety first Psalm. 



When I was little, I saw my parents in many positions of discord, often there was the stink that labels can spread on one’s mind and outfit. Many Nigerian children brought up in typical ways will relate to the images and memories in Amara’s stunning memoir. But what she misses out, perhaps her only fatal flaw in the retelling is her unwitting casting of the father as villain and mother as victim.

This is not her fault. Often times, the male figure does cut a villainous image in his seat of patriarchy, barking out orders, beating the women. But we must realize this story is missing some critical elements.

In our rightful and justified haste to praise the author’s retelling, we forgive a child’s eyes forgetting the child has not been privy to necessary truths. However, we are right in castigating the display meted out in form of all the harsh treatments the author’s mother survived. And remarkably through telling, we see a rare and emphatic Nigerian woman who managed to pack her things and leave.

Something happens so frequently we come to unknowingly accept it as normal. In the Academy Award winning “Spotlight”, the Boston newspapers discovered that their investigative series of sexual abuse among minors in the church, was a poorly kept secret in the vicinity. With her memoir, the author has spotlight the issue, perhaps that we can be shaken off complacency as resignation.

Love exists and we can fight for love and life, despite the author’s insistence of the painfulness and equal beauty. This is her greatest triumph, the innocent celebration of pure non-romantic love. In a series of powerful paragraphs, she captures love with deft metaphors, through trying experiences like sickness and money, through the articulation of feeling, using slang Nigerians will be familiar with. The author leaps through years and moments with the same finesse from start to finish. The whole piece is an exercise in searing imagery and vivid descriptive skills one can only recollect from memories gushing. The article gushes, it is a flood of defining moments. Even with less shows as the author has, the impact will be felt the same way.

Amara Okolo has achieved a remarkable feat, has caused us all to reel from nostalgia, especially women reader’s. She has caused us to rush read and exhale at the end. With bowed heads for the many women who cannot leave. Show the memoir to one of them soon and watch it catch fire.




Alithnayn Abdulkareem is a writer and development worker interested in culture, history and infrastructural development. She is fond of Henna on her hands and tweets and Instagrams as @alithnayn



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