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Sankofa by Chibundu Onuzo Summary
Anna is at a stage of her life when she’s beginning to wonder who she really is. In her 40s, 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. Examining 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.bookshop.org
Sankofa by Chibundu Onuzo review
I feel like I’m always saying something along these lines, but I’ve been meaning to read Chibundu Onuzo’s Welcome to Lagos for some time now. Too many books, always. Anyways, I got lucky with this one falling into my audiobook queue curtesy of my favorites over at libro.fm.
This. Has. Everything. I don’t remember the last time I was so caught up in a story, but Sankofa kept me hanging. The writing is fresh, quick, and enthralling. I will most definitely be hunting down a copy of Welcome to Lagos because even though I know it is a different story following different characters, I just want more of Onuzo’s writing.
Although you would think that the ole finding-the-diary-after-death thing would be worn out by now, Onuzo manages to keep things engaging. Anna goes about learning about her family in a way that anyone can imagine themselves doing. I have a big interest in family history myself, so perhaps this resonated with me, but this part of the story just didn’t feel stale at all.
As a reader, I also tend to dread switching POVs, especially when it comes to flashbacks delivered via writings such as this, but Onuzo escapes that pitfall for me, as well. I’m dying to learn more about Anna’s father, and the way that we, too, are introduced to him as a young man rather than the leader he becomes is brilliant, especially when taking into account later events. There were a number of ways Onuzo could have shaped this story, but the pacing and dangling of information is absolutely perfect.
This comparison sounds a little off, but the revelation of who Anna’s father became has a somewhat Princess Diaries ring to it, although the tone is definitely more serious. Looking back, I think this is one of the factors that kept me as intrigued as I was — despite the serious nature of the contents, they are presented in a way that is balanced with a bit of excitement.
I full-heartedly recommend you pick up Sankofa, no matter what you tend to like in your books. Like I said, this story really did have everything packed in. Will be in my best of 2021 wrap-up, for sure.
CW: Mental illness, rape and sexual assault, excessive violence, abuse (physical, mental, emotional, verbal, sexual), child abuse, self-harm and eating disorders, death or dying, kidnapping and other events that might be considered traumatic, pregnancy/child birth