my father, dictator

Chibundu Onuzo. By

“Sankofa”, the third novel by Nigerian author Chibundu Onujo, follows Anna Graham, a 48-year-old, mixed-race Londoner moving to middle-aged Ennui. His mother has recently passed away; She is separated from her cuckold husband and sleeps in “sexless pajamas … facing the space occupied by my husband”; Her working adult daughter may or may not be battling bulimia. In the novel as she discovers, under a false bottom in her mother’s trunk, a decades-old journal kept by a man named Francis Eggre, the father she never knew.

Its content manipulates his life in the same way that an anagram, or “Anna Graham”, manipulates the letters of a word to create a new meaning. The setup may seem gimmicky were it not for a cleverly executed twist: Francis Eggre, she learns, is the former president of a (fictional) small West African nation, Bamana. He stepped down a decade ago after 30 years of continuous authoritarian rule. Anna goes to the British Library to research her father and learns from a man she met in the cafeteria that Francis was known in Bamana as “the Crocodile” and was charged with involvement in the 1988 murder of student activists, the Kinnacro Five. was accused of. .

Anna reads in Francis’ journal of her behavior as a black African university student in London in the 1960s: they are called the N-word, and “old women open their doors and tremble” when they meet him, a Scotsman is expected at his base. Name. These accounts testify to Anna’s own experiences of racism who grew up in a council flat in London in the 1970s, experiencing what her Welsh mother did less in a misguided attempt to protect her. Something was lacking in Anna’s childhood: “a sense of rightness, a sense of self. When you had, you had nothing. You hardly noticed it. But once it disappeared, it was like a piece of fruit on a long sea voyage, the difference between bleeding gums and surviving. “

Francis’s journal describes his growing politicization under the tutelage of a provocateur by the name of Ras Menelik, who educates him about the exploitation of his countrymen in British-owned mines. While in the house of Menelik’s secretary, Francis establishes a love affair with his sister – Anna’s mother – until he is called home to her dying mother’s bedside. Back home he becomes politically active in the northern part of the country, where British diamond mines are located, and he eventually leads the country’s liberation effort. He does not learn of Anna’s existence nearly 50 years later until she travels to Bamna to find her.

Onuzzo, who was born in Lagos and lives in London, brings to life this fictional country and its ex-dictatorship with economy, precision and satire. At the Bamnian embassy, ​​the smell of cooking is “smuggled into clothing and hair.” The skyscrapers in the capital are “spears aimed at the sun”. On a guided tour through the country’s slave forts, a Bamnian couple inappropriately pose under the “door of no return”, through which slaves passed to board waiting ships to be taken to the Americas. . Unlike the ancestors of the serious African American tourists in the group, notes Anna, “our ancestors weren’t sold.” She later rides in a golf cart through the theme park Eggre has built in the middle of the woods to secure her heritage – “museums, a television studio, a cinema, a zoo, a water park and a Complete with cable car rides.”

Part of the novel’s joy lies in the similarity of Onuzzo’s stories: the political arrival of Francis Eggre, documented through excerpts from his magazine, follows Anna’s own transformation from suburban housewife to global citizen, suspicious of power. Along the way becoming more aware of morality. The novel, named after a mythical bird that flies forward while looking backward, explores the possibilities and limitations of retrospectively evaluating one’s life choices. After meeting, Eggre tells her that she sees the world as a obroni, a white person, and that she may never understand what it’s like to be African. Anna forces him to admit how far he has strayed from his youthful idealism. With its throwback take on the experience of the African diaspora, Onuzzo’s secretly booming, highly gripping novel leaves the reader to reconsider familiar narratives of colonization, inheritance, and liberation.

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