Sankofa by Chibundu Onuzo

Reviewed by Katy Zignego (Library Staff)

I should know by now that Reese Witherspoon and I do not agree on books. I haven’t liked a Reese’s Book Club pick since the very first one (Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine). They are usually passable but bland, with bright covers and voices that aren’t too edgy. Rather like a Reese Witherspoon movie, now that I think about it.

Sankofa, by Chibundu Onuzo, checks all those boxes. Its glorious cover and promise of a female African story drew me in despite my misgivings about Reese’s picks. It starts off with an intriguing premise: Anna, a middle-aged British woman, empty of nest and newly separated from her husband, discovers her father’s identity. The former Francis Aggrey, a student in London when he met Anna’s mother, is now Kofi Adjei, the retired dictator of a small (fictional) African nation.

This discovery launches Anna on a voyage both literal and figurative, to the country of Bamana and through her own identity. And then the author wimps out. She doesn’t push Anna through any real crises–even an overnight stay in jail is cushioned with kindness and rescue–and seems to sand off the sharpest edges of her self-examination. One expects this sort of thing in a young-adult novel, but a work of literary fiction for adult readers should be unflinching. The transformation Anna undergoes should not be as easy or gentle as Obuzo depicts.

This review is also colored by my recent reading of two excellent works of fiction by women authors of the African diaspora. Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Girl, Woman, Other, by Bernardine Evaristo, are both superior novels focusing on female African stories. Choose either of those before you pick up Sankofa. And it was no surprise to me that Evaristo’s novel captured the 2019 Booker Prize–I always like the Booker Prize picks!

Located in Adult Fiction (FIC ONUZO)

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