A story of a mixed-race British woman who goes in search of the African father she never knew. Anna grew up in England with her white mother and knowing very little about her African father. In middle age, after separating from her husband and with her daughter all grown up, she finds herself alone and wondering who she really is. Her mother's death leads her to find her father's student diaries, chronicling his involvement in radical politics in 1970s London. She discovers that he eventually became the president—some would say the dictator—of Bamana in West Africa. She also discovers that he is still alive.
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.