Virago has picked up the third novel by Chibundu Onuzo, a “moving, funny and surprising” story of a mixed-race British woman who goes in search of the West African father she never knew.
Publisher Sarah Savitt acquired UK and Commonwealth rights for Sankofa from Georgina Capel at Georgina Capel Associates, for publication in June 2021. Jonathan Lee at Catapult has acquired US rights and Anwuli Ojogwu at Narrative Landscape Press has acquired Nigerian rights.
The synopsis explains: “In middle age, after separating from her husband and losing her mother, Anna finds 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 the West African country of Bamana. And he is still alive. Anna decides to track him down and her journey will lead her to a new understanding of both her past and her potential future, as well as an exploration of race, identity and what we pass on to our children.”
Onuzo was born in Lagos, Nigeria, and her life so far spans two military dictatorships, one internet revolution, two boarding schools, five grandmothers and a first book deal signed at 19. Onuzo's first novel, The Spider King's Daughter, was published by Faber in 2012 and won the Betty Trask Award, and was shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize and the Commonwealth Book Prize.. Her second novel, Welcome to Lagos, was published by Faber in 2017 and shortlisted for the RSL Encore Award. In 2018 Onuzo was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, as part of its 40 Under 40 initiative. This year, "Dolapo is Fine", a short film which Onuzo co-wrote and co-produced, is one of five finalists for the 2020 American Black Film Festival’s Annual HBO Short Film Competition.
She said: “I spent four years at King’s College London, researching the West African men (and it was mostly men) who came to Britain for university from 1925 to the 1970s. Many of them joined a group called the West African Students’ Union. Some were radical, some were political and a notable number returned home to join independence struggles on the African continent. I wondered what would happen if one of these men left a child behind. How old would she be? How would her life have been shaped by the presence of a white mother and the absence of her black father? And thus the novel Sankofa was born.”
Savitt added: “What I find irresistible about Chibundu’s writing is the way she explores conflicts stemming from clashes of class, family and identity through nail-biting plots, always with an incredible sense of place. She writes wonderfully about characters who cross into different worlds, changing themselves and those they encounter irrevocably. Sankofa showcases all of this as well as feeling like an exciting step up in ambition. Chibundu is also an accomplished musician, public speaker and commentator, and we are thrilled that she will be bringing all of this talent to Virago.”