Title: Sankofa Author: Chibundu Onuzo Genre: Fiction Rating: 4 out of 5
Anna is at a stage of her life when she’s beginning to wonder who she really is. 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.
I enjoyed this more than I thought I would. Anna has spent most of her life stagnating, so it was good to see her finally take some sort of action. But, Anna still lets life happen to her, going along with a lot of things instead of speaking up or standing up for herself. Her father was kind of awful, a far cry from the man she got to know from his diary.
Chibundu Onuzo is from Nigeria. Sankofa is her new novel.
(Galley courtesy of Catapult in exchange for an honest review.)
Born in Somalia, a spare daughter in a large family, Shugri Said Salh was sent at age six to live with her nomadic grandmother in the desert. The last of her family to learn this once-common way of life, Salh found herself chasing warthogs, climbing termite hills, herding goats, and moving constantly in search of water and grazing lands with her nomadic family. For Salh, though the desert was a harsh place threatened by drought, predators, and enemy clans, it also held beauty, innovation, centuries of tradition, and a way for a young Sufi girl to learn courage and independence from a fearless group of relatives. Salh grew to love the freedom of roaming with her animals and the powerful feeling of community found in nomadic rituals and the oral storytelling of her ancestors.
As she came of age, though, both she and her beloved Somalia were forced to confront change, violence, and instability. Salh writes with engaging frankness and a fierce feminism of trying to break free of the patriarchal beliefs of her culture, of her forced female genital mutilation, of the loss of her mother, and of her growing need for independence. Taken from the desert by her strict father and then displaced along with millions of others by the Somali Civil War, Salh fled first to a refugee camp on the Kenyan border and ultimately to North America to learn yet another way of life.
This was a fascinating read! I don’t know much about Somalia, so that was pretty much all new to me. Parts of this were extremely difficult to read—the explanation on FGM and how it was accepted and sought after, the way Shugri was abused by her sister when she got to Canada—but it was a powerful, moving read with a lot of hope on its pages.
Shugri said Salh was born in Somalia but now lives in California. The Last Nomad is her story.
(Galley courtesy of Algonquin Books in exchange for an honest review.)
One of the first unaccompanied refugee children to enter the United States in 2000, after South Sudan’s second civil war took the lives of most of her family, Rebecca’s story begins in the late 1980s when, at the age of four, her village was attacked and she had to escape. What They Meant for Evil is the account of that unimaginable journey. With the candor and purity of a child, Rebecca recalls how she endured fleeing from gunfire, suffering through hunger and strength-sapping illnesses, dodging life-threatening predators-lions, snakes, crocodiles, and soldiers alike-that dogged her footsteps, and grappling with a war that stole her childhood.
I cannot imagine the strength it takes to go through something like this…and to not just survive but thrive! I love how the story is told through Rebecca’s eyes at the age the events happened. This gives the story even more impact. While the things she went through are horrific—and the idea that untold numbers also experienced the violence and pain of this same war—her determination and accomplishments are very inspiring!
Rebecca Deng is one of the Lost Girls of Sudan who came to the U.S. in 2000 to escape the violence and war that had plagued her country for years. What They Meant for Evil is her story.
(Galley courtesy of FaithWords in exchange for an honest review.)
Adunni is a fourteen-year-old Nigerian girl who dreams of finishing her education and becoming a teacher. Before her mother died, she made her father promise Adunni wouldn’t be forced to marry, but her father now disregards that promise and gives her to be the third wife to a local man who demands that she gives him sons—and his first wife terrorizes her.
So Adunni runs away—and finds herself as the house slave to a wealthy couple in the city. The wife forces Adunni to scrub the house with a toothbrush and beats her whenever the whim strikes. The husband is a threat of a different kind, and Adunni realizes if she is ever to have “a louding voice”—the ability to speak and stand up for herself—she will have to act despite her fear. For herself. For the ones who came before her. And for those who will come after.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget how blessed I am, but this book paints it in stark relief in comparison to Adunni’s life. The strength and determination it would take to stand up to centuries of tradition and cultural habits is amazing. Adunni has suffered unspeakable things at the hands of those around her—yet she’s still upbeat and determined to seize her dreams in both hands. An excellent read—but not light and fluffy.
Abi Daré grew up in Nigeria and now lives in the UK. The Girl with the Louding Voice is her debut novel.
(Galley courtesy of Penguin Group/Dutton in exchange for an honest review.)