Monday, January 11, 2016

Love and violence in post-apocalyptic Africa

Nnedi Okorafor
As often happens when I gather stats for my end-of-year summary, I was a bit appalled by how few books I read in 2015 from my TBR shelves.  Thus, I ended the year with a book I've owned for a few years, Nnedi Okorafor's Who Fears Death.

Who Fears Death is a popular choice for A More Diverse Universe, possibly because of #Diversiverse's fantasy and science fiction roots.  It takes place some time in the future in Africa, where a seemingly never-ending war continues between the Nuru, the oppressors, and the Okeke, the oppressed.  Onyesonwu is a child of rape, an Ewu, with strong magical abilities and a destiny to end the genocide of her Okeke people.  She learns how to control her powers (to an extent) from a revered shaman but all too soon, she must face her destiny.

It took me a long time to read this book because of the violent premise; Onyesonwu is a child of rape, and that fact reverberates through much of the story.  There is other sexual violence in this novel that is difficult to read, too, and those acts also have repercussions for characters through the story.  I do not enjoy books in which females experience a loss of agency and power over their own bodies (and this happens more often than I'd like in fantasy and historical fiction).  That said, it is a realistic portrayal of what life has in store for more people than we'd like.  And in Okorafor's story, every woman, from Onyesonwu's mother to all of her friends ,becomes a change agent who is able to influence and change events.

I thoroughly enjoyed the first half of this book, though I admit I lost some steam in the second half.  I feel like so many fantasy stories get bogged down in the whole "journey to destiny" part.  It always seems to take forever, there's always some sort of internal drama in the group that's traveling together, and everyone is just waiting for the next big thing to happen.  Who Fears Death was no exception to this, and I found myself skimming a few chapters while Onyesonwu and her friends bickered their way through the desert.  However, there were some really cool characters introduced in this section, including a whole nomadic tribe of red people who traveled with the sandstorms.  Okorafor has a great sense of creativity, and the way she can bring history and tradition and culture to life in short descriptions and interactions is really impressive.

One of my favorite things about this book was the way Onyesonwu dealt with all of the stigmas against her - being female, being Ewu, being a foreigner in her hometown and all the rest.  Okorafor used her to make so many interesting points about sexism and racism and how even those who know you best can fall prey to stereotypes and jealousy and anger.  I loved that about this book, and I am so excited to see what Okorafor does with those types of issues in her other novels.


  1. I do want to try this one

  2. Apart from the travelling around thing (I have to agree with you on that one, I tend to find those sections of books boring for the repetitiveness) I wouldn't mind reading this, the points you mention being made sound well written. I've also not heard of it before; if it's a popular reading choice I feel the need to check it out.

  3. Yes yes, I lost steam in the second half too, and in fact, I think that's been a recurring problem I've had with Okorafor's novels. I'm hoping that as she progresses as a writer, it'll be less of a problem? I dunno.

  4. This sounds like an intriguing book.


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