An accomplished novel that explores difference and belonging with a cool intensity

The difficult experience of feeling stuck between seemingly irreconcilable states is at the core of Chibundu Onuzo’s accomplished third novel. The mixed racial heritage of Sankofa’s fiftysomething protagonist, Anna Bain, is the most powerful manifestation of this. As a Welsh-Bamanian (Bamana is Onuzo’s fictional west African state), London-based Anna is made to constantly confront notions of difference and belonging. Anna, who was raised by her white mother, remembers that, as a teenager, white friends were desperate to touch her hair, wanted to know “if food tasted different with thicker lips”. In the early years of motherhood, she was once assumed to be the nanny of her white-passing daughter, Rose.

The novel opens with “aloof” Anna stuck at a particularly bewildering kind of existential crossroads. After more than 20 years of marriage, throughout which she has kept a lid on her artistic ambitions, she has separated from her unfaithful husband. Her relationship with her high-flying daughter is in flux. Most poignantly, Anna’s mother has just passed away.

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