Friday, 11 March 2022

Sankofa by Chibundu Onuzo


Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought of It:

“You came to meet a man in the past. There is a mythical bird we have here, Anna. We call it Sankofa. It flies forward with its head facing backwards. It’s a poetic image, but it cannot work in real life.”

Clearing out the house after the death of her mother, Anna comes across a notebook written by the father she never knew. Written when he was a young African student on the fringes of radical politics, it reveals a story she was never told – of how her parents met. Yet it ends abruptly, without explanation as to why he left and never came back.

With these clues to go on, she begins to research his name, and discovers to her shock that her father became the first President of Bamana, the country of his birth. And that his legacy is anything but straightforward.

She first tracks down the British academic who wrote his biography and then, with great trepidation, travels to Bamana to confront her father and learn something about her own identity. But Anna finds herself an obroni (foreigner) in Bamana, out of her depth, pulled in different directions, judging the country – and her father – with European eyes.

Initially suspicious, her father – still a powerful and wealthy man – makes her a Bamanan citizen and then takes her to his country home, an estate where he wields enormous power and where they call him Daasebre: “we cannot thank you enough”.

But other members of the family are less than happy at the appearance of this previously unknown eldest daughter from England. And when Anna begins to challenge some of her father’s actions, things get complicated. Is there a way for Anna to find a reconciliation between the two parts of herself?

Sankofa is an exploration of how identity impacts those of African heritage, of the complicated relationship between Europe and Africa and how it affects them, their values and their sense of self. Onuzo, like Anna, challenges both European and African standards and assumptions.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: When We Speak of Nothing by Olumide Poloola; Admiring Silence by Abdulrazak Gurnah; The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney by Okechukwu Nzelu; Brit(ish) by Afua Hirsch

Avoid If You Dislike: Fictionalised versions of Africa

Perfect Accompaniment: A bottle of ice cold water and a sketchpad and paints

Genre: Contemporary, Literary

Buy This Book Here

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