Part of the novel’s delight lies in Onuzo’s paralleling of stories: Francis Aggrey’s political coming-of-age, documented through excerpts from his journal, runs alongside Anna’s own transformation from suburban housewife to global citizen, growing ever more aware of the murky ethics of power along the way. The novel, named for a mythical bird that flies forward while facing backward, explores the possibilities and limits of evaluating one’s life choices retroactively ... With her anagrammatic take on the experience of the African diaspora, Onuzo’s sneakily breezy, highly entertaining novel leaves the reader rethinking familiar narratives of colonization, inheritance and liberation.
Accomplished ... In her acknowledgments, Onuzo identifies Rachel Cusk’s work as providing her with inspiration. Both the portrayal of a coolly distant protagonist who closely controls her emotions and the artfully spare sentences demonstrate Cusk’s influence on this lean novel. While the uncluttered style is admirable, at times it leads to some of the book’s potentially complex messages about identity landing in a slightly heavy-handed manner. However, the slick pacing and unpredictable developments – especially in the depiction of Anna’s enigmatic father – keep the reader alert right up to the novel’s exhilarating ending. Here, though some might find the tonal shift jarring, Onuzo lifts the narrative into an entirely unexpected space. She shows that the healing of fractures and a desire for wholeness can be achieved in the most unexpected of places.
The bi-continental novel explores issues of power, corruption, racism, colorism, colonialism and more. Perhaps most compelling, though, is the way it explores Anna’s mixed-race identity; She is seen in England as Black and in Africa as white ... With echoes of Tayari Jones’s An American Marriage and Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half, Sankofa is a vivid exploration of finding one’s place in the world, while confronting the demons brought on by our parentage.
... an enjoyably readable novel that raises questions of belonging and the search for personal roots ... One of the strengths of Sankofa is that Anna must consistently confront notions of difference and acceptance ... Onuzo’s disarmingly frank novel contends with complex issues of identity and prejudice, and it doesn’t sugarcoat its depiction of the fractured history of a developing country. Onuzo sets Anna on a path that can only be completed when she begins to come to terms with her past.
Chibundu Onuzo's third novel, Sankofa, opens in a voice and style that are unfamiliar — at least to this reader of her previous novels. The writing is clipped and mostly stripped of excess ... A lingering directness to the prose advances the plot but does little to generate enough nuance and literary heft in the novel ... In Bamana, a fictionalized West African country, Onuzo is probably at her narrative best. We leave behind a briskly examined life in dull, racist England and find ourselves in a setting that fires up the senses ... For the Akan people of Ghana, 'sankofa' means not only to retrieve but also to do so in the spirit of taking something good from the past to better the future. Like her protagonist, the writer Onuzo boldly attempts this in her new novel, to some mixed results.
[A] riveting, gracefully spare novel of self-discovery ... Onuzo's astute portrait of a woman attempting to find her way to her future by mining the past mirrors the mythical creature from which the story takes its title, a bird that flies forward while looking backward. Onuzo shows that making peace with the past can be a starting point toward self-acceptance, and that imperfect families can find common ground in unexpected ways.
Themes that Onuzo visited in 2018’s Welcome to Lagos, including unscrupulous politicians, irresponsible journalism, and the yawning gap between rich and poor, feel deeply personal as Anna’s journey unfolds. Though the quest for identity has become a conventional staple of contemporary fiction, it feels fresh and new in Onuzo’s capable hands.
Chibundu Onuzo’s latest novel Sankofa captures, with acerbic wit and charismatic prose, one woman’s journey to find her identity ... Anna’s story is written with an astute understanding of how her mixed identity and heritage is perceived by others ... Sankofa is a fresh, funny and moving take on the theme of identity and place. Onuzo plunges you into Anna’s acts of self-knowing, crafted with gentle care but harbouring brutal realities. Exploring the markers from which a person makes who they are, Sankofa moves forward to illustrate what we then are able to give and pass on. A fantastic story with a complex understanding of the many narratives that we embody and that give us our places in society, Sankofa is a welcome addition to Onuzo’s deservedly acclaimed oeuvre.
Onuzo knows better. A woman’s past cannot solve her problems. What Anna needs to recover is herself. The scene in which that happens seems overheated and overdetermined, with too many signs and symbols. But the one that matters most hits home for both Anna and the reader — the not-so-hidden homonym of her name, 'anagram.' If Africa contains multitudes, so do we all — and, in Sankofa, Onuzo hints that the answers to our problems lie neither behind nor ahead of us, but within.
Onuzo paints a blocky portrait of Anna and her complex relationships. Additional plotlines lack texture, and Anna’s seesawing feelings for her father can be frustrating. Kofi tells her that the sankofa is a mythical bird that 'flies forwards with its head facing back. It’s a poetic image but it cannot work in real life.' Anna is earnest, but her father has a point.