Book Review: Newscaster Zain Asher Writes Uplifting Memoirs
“Where the Children Take Us: How One Family Achieved the Unimaginable” by Zain E. Asher (Amistad)
In recounting his family’s struggle to carry on after his father’s unexpected death, Zain E. Asher has written a handbook of hope when nothing seems possible.
Asher’s face is known around the world as the host of CNN International’s “One World” show. The same goes for his brother, actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, the star of Oscar-winning “12 Years a Slave” and acclaimed actor for writing and directing the Netflix movie “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.” Their sister, Kandibe, a doctor, and their brother, Obinze, an entrepreneur, have made their mark in their own field.
However, the star of Asher’s memoir “Where the Children Take Us” is their mother.
Obiajulu Justina Ejiofor was raising a family in London when a car accident killed her husband, Arinze, a medical student, and her son Chiwetel, then 11, seriously injured. With a baby on the way, she had to deal with the loss of her childhood sweetheart. , the management of a neighborhood pharmacy and, above all, the care of their young children. Grief-stricken and exhausted, even with the help of loved ones, she feared disappointing them.
But Obiajulu had faced challenges before. As a child, she navigated political and ethnic divides during Nigeria’s bloody civil war, then moved with Arinze to London at 18 with little more than a desire to build a life together. Working in a laundry, she was inspired by another Nigerian woman to explore other possibilities. Soon, Obiajulu set her sights on earning a pharmacy degree, getting a loan, and opening her own business, all thanks to the first “elevator” in her new life.
In the wake of the tragedy, Asher’s mother became her family’s uplifter by waving the steady hand of a parent who would not allow her children to let down. Even after long days at the pharmacy, Obiajulu supervised their studies, engaged them in a dinnertime book club, and put the baby to bed. It established the commitment to advance in the world through education and intense discipline.
Asher was often the only black child in her classes, sometimes feeling unwanted as an outsider in terms of race and class. At age 9, her mother sent her to live in Nigeria with her grandparents to learn strength and resilience the old-fashioned way.
This “crash course in survival” lasted almost two years. Cleaning the yard, scrubbing toilets, balancing buckets of water from a river a mile from their village, Asher has mastered what she calls “the grueling art of endurance.” At school in Nigeria, she learned to earn the respect of her classmates and teachers. She returns to London better able to adapt to adversity and exclusion.
Asher was pushed to visit Oxford University at age 13, with her mother pointing out students and telling her, “It could be you one day. When his studies failed to achieve Oxford-worthy grades due to television and telephone distractions, Obiajulu removed the television set and installed a payphone in the hallway. In time, Asher was accepted to Oxford – and later to Columbia University to study journalism. Lessons from her mother helped her forge a successful career in television news.
“You’re not competing with them,” his mother said when Asher talked about rivals and the drive to move forward. “Prepare as best you can to be your best, not their best.”
Her brother Obinze once remarked that Asher was ready for life when she was accepted to Oxford, noting how she had achieved the unimaginable given their circumstances. He assured her, “There’s nothing you can’t do now.
With “Where the Children Take Us,” everyone can learn from Zain Asher, whose memoir adds his name to the newest uplifter.
This cover image posted by Amistad shows “Where the Children Take Us: How One Family Achieved the Unimaginable” by Zain E. Asher.