by Chibundu Onuzo
Released on June 3rd, 2021
Published by Catapult
A woman wondering who she really is goes in search of a father she never knew—only to find something far more complicated than she ever expected—in this moving and hopeful novel of self-discovery for readers of An American Marriage.
Examing freedom, prejudice, and personal and public inheritance, Sankofa is a story for anyone who has ever gone looking for a clear identity or home, and found something more complex in its place.
Anna is at a stage of her life when she’s beginning to wonder who she really is. She has separated from her husband, her daughter is all grown up, and her mother—the only parent who raised her—is dead.
Searching through her mother’s belongings one day, Anna finds clues about the African father she never knew. His student diaries chronicle his involvement in radical politics in 1970s London. Anna discovers that he eventually became the president—some would say dictator—of a small nation in West Africa. And he is still alive…
When Anna decides to track her father down, a journey begins that is disarmingly moving, funny, and fascinating. Like the metaphorical bird that gives the novel its name, Sankofa expresses the importance of reaching back to knowledge gained in the past and bringing it into the present to address universal questions of race and belonging, the overseas experience for the African diaspora, and the search for a family’s hidden roots.
Trigger/Content Warning(s): Racism, Racial Slurs, Death of a Parent, Colonisation, Eating Disorder (mentioned), Infidelity, Police Brutality, Grief
Disclaimer: I was provided a physical copy by the publisher for the purpose of reviewing. This does not affect my opinion.
Sankofa by Chibundu Onuzo is an imaginative, intriguing story.
The beginning of the book is slow to start. Sankofa does not have the normal hook and pull that readers often look for at the beginning of a novel, and when Onuzo finally revealed it, it was not until much later in the story. The pacing of it was much the same—slow to start, slow continued, and then quick at the very end. Normally, fault can be found in this method, but it can be determined that the pacing fits this book well because of the type of storytelling being used.
Onuzo’s storytelling was without plot. There was no overall goal to be reached or specific point of the story, rather several small moments that came about. It felt as though there was no spark within the book. Because of this, one can find it easy to grow bored with the combination of the slower pacing and even slower movement. Though the intrigue of the overall book does make up for that slightly.
The character development was not extraordinary. Anna is a middle-aged woman without a life, and her daughter speaks to her only so often. Her husband is trying to convince her to revisit their relationship after she found his infidelity and kicked him out. After her mother’s death, she is spurred into finding and meeting the father who spoke effortlessly in the diary he left for her mother.
It can be determined that Anna’s daughter was correct in saying that she was, in fact, running away from her potential divorce and smaller issues within her English life. But even so, it can be felt that her journey to Bamana and her discoveries while there played a key part in Anna uncovering certain parts of herself that she was not while in England and still with her husband.
That being said, the side characters received little development. Anna’s daughter, other than that singular scene, was a bit insufferable. Her husband was unmemorable, and her siblings–while interesting people–did not have enough page space to give determination to their characters. The relationship that began to build between Anna and her father, however, did seem realistic given the circumstances.
Lastly, it is to be pointed out that Onuzo does have an attentive writing style. It keeps readers captivated to continue reading, and it is different from that of other authors because she uses a short and stilted way of writing. There is little to read between the lines with it, as it is straightforward from the get-go.
Chibundu Onuzo was born in Nigeria in 1991 in Lagos and is the youngest of four children. She is a History graduate from King’s College London and is currently an MSc student in Public Policy at the University College of London. When not writing Chibundu can be found playing the piano or singing.