Tag: Nnedi Okorafor

Binti: Home

binti-homeby Nnedi Okorafor

eISBN 978-0-7653-9310-4

“Tribal hatred lived, even in Oomza Uni. And today that hatred, after simmering for a year, was coming to a head.”

Having succeeded in negotiating a tentative peace between the Meduse and Oomza Uni after the attack on the Third Fish transport, Binti and Okwu have settled in as students on the university planet. Binti is supposed to be a master harmonizer, but ever since the attack, she has been experiencing violent mood swings, feeling almost uncontrollable flashes of anger that have convinced her she is unclean. To purge herself, Binti decides it is time to travel home, and make the traditional Himba women’s pilgrimage. But returning to Earth will mean making her first space trip since the attack, and facing up to the consequences of defying tradition when she chose to leave her family behind to attend university.

Binti returns to Earth after a year at Oomza Uni, with Okwu as her travelling companion. Okwu is the first Meduse to ever visit Earth for a peaceful purpose, and their arrival at a Khoush spaceport causes a great stir. This serves to highlight just how tentative the peace with the Meduse is. Over their first year of study, Okwu has been in constant conflict with its human teacher, and Binti has the sense that the fact that war has been forbidden only makes the Meduse want it more. Despite being regarded as a hero at Oomza Uni, her friendship with Okwu has prevented her from making any other close friends there.

Although Nnedi Okorafor begins Home with a fight, for the most part, it is a quieter affair than the first Binti  novella, focusing on interpersonal relationships, including social and familial constructs and traditions. When Binti comes home, she must face the fact that she has disturbed the line of succession in her family, abdicating her place as her father’s heir in the astrolabe business, and also forfeit her position as a woman within Himba society. No man will want to marry her, as her old friend Dele makes abundantly clear, and her family’s emotions are a warring mix of pride in her accomplishments and anger at her abandonment of their way of life.

The most interesting part of Home takes place when Binti makes an unexpected detour to visit the Desert People, known among themselves as the Enyi Zinariya. Binti’s father is descended from them, but this is considered a shameful fact, never spoken of, and Binti is embarrassed by the darker skin and bushier hair she inherited from her father, though her hair has now been replaced by Meduse okuoko. After highlighting the tension between the Khoush and the Himba in Binti, Okorafor takes it a step further here, exploring the people who are looked down upon by the Himba, just as the Khoush look down on them. In making peace with herself after the traumatic events that took place aboard the Third Fish, Binti must confront the part of her heritage she has denied and been taught to be ashamed of.

The character and world-building in Home may be stronger than the action, but the pace picks up in the last five percent of the book, heading towards a cliff-hanger ending that promises a more eventful third installment in the Binti series. Whereas in the first volume, Binti looked out to the stars and dared to imagine a bigger life for herself, here she must come home into order to look within, and reconcile her dreams with her roots. While Binti is beginning to feel a bit more like a serialized novel than stand-alone novellas, I nevertheless look forward to the next volume. The third Binti story is titled The Night Masquerade, and is due out in September 2017.

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Also by Nnedi Okorafor:

Who Fears Death

Who Fears Death

Cover image for Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okoraforby Nnedi Okorafor

ISBN 978-0-7564-0669-1

“Humiliation and confusion were the staples of my childhood. Is it a wonder that anger was never far behind?”

Onyesonwu is Ewu, a child born of the violence that the Nuru have long visited upon the Okeke people they have enslaved in post-apocalyptic Sudan. Nuru and Okeke alike regard her as an abomination, but she is protected by her determined mother, and her highly respected adoptive father. Her magical talents begin to manifest early, setting her even further apart from her Okeke peers in the village of Jwahir. But things begin to change when she meets Mwita, an Ewu boy with connections to the village sorcerer, Aro, who has never agreed to take a woman as his student. Her untrained power ties her to a larger destiny, one will impact the future of Nuru and Okeke alike.

Onyesonwu is the child of rape, and this is only the first of many brutal and violent events that are recounted in great detail in the opening of pages of Who Fears Death. For anyone who might struggle with reading about rape and female genital cutting, this book and this review may not be for you. A variety of violent deaths are also graphically depicted, including more than one woman being killed by stoning, and another woman who is torn limb from limb by an angry mob. The violence is generally motivated by either the race or gender of the victim(s) and often by both. While the graphic depictions let up somewhat in the later part of the book, I honestly struggled to continue reading after making it through the first hundred pages. It took me two weeks to get through the book, though I put it down for a week in the middle.
Diverse-SFF-book-clubWho Fears Death
highlights the reinforcement of sexism and the policing of gender boundaries that can be conducted by women as much as, or in some circumstances more than, by men. Onyesonwu’s childhood friend Luyu, for example, is shamed mostly by her friends and other women for her sexual appetites, which are described as masculine. However, the men also grapple with sexism. Aro has never agreed to take a woman as a student, out of fear for the supposed destruction that can occur when a female sorceress conceives. The Seer who prophesies a Chosen One is so bewildered by the idea that his vision may have depicted a woman that he actively proclaims that the Chosen One will be a tall, Nuru man with a beard. And even Mwita, Onyesonwu’s lover, contends with jealousy because he has been unable to pass the initiation necessary to become a sorcerer himself.

Who Fears Death is set in the future, but in many respects does not feel very futuristic. The most common form of technology is the capture station, a device that can extract moisture from the air for drinking in the desolate, sandy waste that Onyesonwu and her companions must traverse. Some people have portable computer-like devices or radios in the cities, but in general, much technology has passed away from the world, lost in the mysterious apocalypse which The Great Book claims the Okeke bear responsibility for. It is this cardinal sin that is also used to justify their enslavement to the Nuru. The history is vague, lost in the mists of time, but the magic that animates Onyesonwu’s unique world is vivid and vibrant.

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Cover image for Binti Nnedi Okorafor You might also like Binti  by Nnedi Okorafor

Diverse Books Tag

The-DiverseBooks-Tag Naz over at Read Diverse Books has been doing killer work with his #DiverseBookBloggers tag. Check it out for great conversations about diversity in the book blogging community, and find lots of great new people to follow! Now he has also started a meme to get bloggers to promote their diverse reads, or challenge themselves to add books that fit certain criteria to their TBR. I’ll let Naz explain:

The Diverse Books Tag is a bit like a scavenger hunt. I will task you to find a book that fits a specific criteria and you will have to show us a book you have read or want to read.

If you can’t think of a book that fits the specific category, then I encourage you to go look for one. A quick Google search will provide you with many books that will fit the bill. (Also, Goodreads lists are your friends.) Find one you are genuinely interested in reading and move on to the next category.

Everyone can do this tag, even people who don’t own or haven’t read any books that fit the descriptions below. So there’s no excuse! The purpose of the tag is to promote the kinds of books that may not get a lot of attention in the book blogging community.”

In most cases I had a ton of books to choose from. When in doubt, I tried to err on the side of #ownvoices authors and their books. But as you will see, I also found a gap in my reading the size of a continent. If I’ve already read the book, you can click the title for a link to the full review.

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Find a book starring a lesbian character

Cover image for Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara FarizanTell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan

Leila Azadi is a lesbian, but she has done a pretty good job of keeping this fact a secret from her friends and classmates at Armstead Academy. Everyone thinks her best friend Greg is her boyfriend, and this allows her to fly under the radar. If only Greg didn’t want to actually be her boyfriend, everything would be perfect. But with the arrival of Saskia, a beautiful and sophisticated student from Europe, Leila finds herself with a crush on a classmate for the first time. he harder she falls for wild and independent Saskia, the more difficult it is to keep her secret, not just from her classmates and teachers, but from her traditional Iranian parents, and her perfect older sister, Nahal. Confused by Saskia’s mixed signals, Leila begins to reach out to friends and family, but as the truth starts to spread, Leila finds herself losing control of her coming out process.

Find a book with a Muslim protagonist

Cover image for Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed

Seventeen-year-old Naila is the model daughter of two very traditional Pakistani immigrants in Florida. She makes perfect grades in school, and has been accepted to a selective six-year medical program for university. She doesn’t complain about not being able to attend soccer games, or birthday parties, or even her senior prom. But Naila has a secret; for the last year she has been dating Saif, a fellow Pakistani-American from a family that has been shunned by the community because his parents allowed their daughter to marry an American. When Naila’s parents inevitably discover her relationship, they decide a month in Pakistan will help her reconnect with her roots and forget about Saif. But it eventually becomes clear that her parents have another purpose for the trip; they are looking for a husband for Naila, and they want her to be married immediately, regardless of her wishes.

Find a book set in Latin America

Ways of Going Home by Alejandro Zambra Well, I think we just found a big gap in my reading. While I could find books on my blog with Latin American characters, I couldn’t find one actually set in Latin America. So then I dug through my embarrassingly large pile of unread books. I found a couple titles by Latin American authors, but again, none set there. Ditto my Kindle. As far as my bookshelves are concerned, Latin America is a giant gaping hole. I wracked my brain to think of books I read before I blogged, and came up with State of Wonder by Anne Patchett and One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I’m pretty sure I didn’t even finish that last one because the audiobook expired before could get through the whole thing.  So I have requested a copy of Ways of Going Home by Alejandro Zambra from the library. It is set in Chile, and includes an author-narrator, which is what grabbed my interest.

Find a book about a person with a disability

Cover image for El Deafo by Cece Bell El Deafo by CeCe Bell

When four-year-old Cece suddenly becomes violently ill, she wakes up in the hospital unable to hear, and has to be outfitted with a hearing aid. The next year she starts kindergarten at a special school for deaf kids where she learns lip reading. But when first grade rolls around, it is time for Cece to go to her neighbourhood school, where she will be the only deaf student. Trying to fit in at a new school is challenging enough, but Cece also has to wear the phonic ear, a large, two-part hearing aid that allows her to hear her teacher so that she doesn’t have to lip read all the time. Cece desperately wants to be taken for normal, but the phonic ear constantly draws attention to her deafness, and makes friendship complicated. Trying to make sense of her difference, Cece conjures up the character of El Deafo, who turns her disability into a superpower. Then Cece’s dream becomes a reality when her classmates realize that Cece can hear their teacher wherever she is in the school thanks to the microphone component of the phonic ear.

Find a Science-Fiction or Fantasy book with a POC protagonist

Cover image for Binti Nnedi Okorafor Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Sixteen-year-old Binti is Himba, from the indigenous peoples of northern Namibia. She is a brilliant mathematician and master harmonizer, destined to take over her father’s astrolabe shop thanks to her masterful manipulation of math current, and her ability to tree. But Binti has been accepted to Oomza University, the top school in the entire Milky Way galaxy. Only five percent of the population is human, and no Himba as ever gone. Binti is prepared to defy tradition, destroy her prospects of marriage, and venture out on her own for the first time in order to fulfill her dream of attending. But the trip to Oomza Uni is dangerous, taking the spaceship within the territory of the Meduse, ancient enemies of the Khoush people of Earth.

Find a book set in (or about) any country in Africa

Cover image for Every Day is for the Thief by Teju Cole Every Day is for the Thief by Teju Cole

After fifteen years in the United States training to become a psychiatrist, the nameless narrator returns home to Lagos, Nigeria to visit his relatives and reconnect with the city where he grew up. Resisting his family’s efforts to shelter and protect him as if he was truly a foreigner rather than a returnee, he ventures out on foot and by public transportation to commune with the place he once called home and debates about one day calling home again. Teju Cole’s narrator seeks the Lagos he remembers from his youth, and has longed for in moments of homesickness, amidst the corruption that has taken deep root in his absence. Though he has heard about it, there is nothing quite like seeing the change for himself.

Find a book written by an Aboriginal or American Indian author

Cover image for Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese

Sixteen-year-old Franklin Starlight has spent his life on a farm in British Columbia’s remote interior with the old man, who raised him and taught him to hunt and fish, and get by in the backwoods. He has never known his mother, and his father Eldon is an alcoholic who left him with the old man when he was a baby. His father has only ever hurt and disappointed him, but when he receives word that Eldon is dying and wants him to visit, duty still compels him to answer the call. In a tiny, mouldering mill town, he finds his father wracked by liver failure. His dying wish is to be buried on a ridge a three day ride from anywhere, and Frank is the only person who can get him there. Frank has never been able to rely on Eldon for anything, but now it is Eldon who must count on his estranged son in his final days.

Find a book set in South Asia (Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, etc.)

the-heros-walk The Hero’s Walk by Anita Rau Badami

Sripathi Rao and his family live in the once-grand Big House, on Brahmin Street in the seaside Indian town of Toturpuram. His mother Ammayya, his wife Nirmala, and his unmarried sister Putti all reside under his roof, along with his unemployed adult son, Arun. Absent, but never spoken of, is his daughter, Maya, who went away to school in North America, and then defied her family by breaking off her traditional engagement to marry a white man. It has been nine years since Maya’s exile, but still her father stubbornly refuses to take her calls or allow her to visit. But everything changes when a phone call from Canada brings the news that Maya and her husband are dead, leaving their daughter Nandana orphaned. With no other family in Canada to care for her, Sripathi must fly to Vancouver and bring her home to Toturpuram, unaware of how much one small girl, stricken mute by grief, will disrupt the status quo at Big House.

Find a book with a biracial protagonist

Cover image for Bone and Bread by Saleema Nawaz Bone and Bread by Saleema Nawaz

Orphaned as teenagers, Beena and Sadhana lose their mother just when they need her most. Their mother has no living relatives, and they are largely estranged from their father’s Indian family, who disapproved of his marriage to a white woman. Nevertheless, their uncle, who they have previously known mostly as the proprietor of the bakery formerly run by their father, becomes their guardian. He proves to be an awkward surrogate parent, a first generation immigrant stymied by the strangeness of his mixed race, Canadian-born nieces. As the girls vent their grief and push back against their uncle’s traditional views about gender roles, they make choices that will have irrevocable consequences for the rest of their lives.

Find a book starring a transgender character or about transgender issues

Cover image for George by Alex Gino George by Alex Gino

George loves Charlotte’s Web, so when her school decides to put it on as a play, George immediately knows that she wants to play the part of the wise and beneficent Charlotte. And maybe if she can play Charlotte on stage, everyone—from her mother to her teachers to her friends—will finally be able to understand that George is a girl, not a boy. But her teacher refuses to let George try out for the part because she says she can’t give the role of Charlotte to a boy. So George and her best friend Kelly come up with a plan to help everyone finally see George for who she really is.

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If you think this sounds like fun, or want to find the gaps in your own reading history, consider yourself tagged!

Binti

Cover image for Binti Nnedi Okorafor by Nnedi Okorafor

ISBN 978-0-7653-8446-1

“We Himba don’t travel. We stay put. Our ancestral land is life; move away from it and you diminish.”

Sixteen-year-old Binti is Himba, from the indigenous peoples of northern Namibia. She is a brilliant mathematician and master harmonizer, destined to take over her father’s astrolabe shop thanks to her masterful manipulation of math current, and her ability to tree. But Binti has been accepted to Oomza University, the top school in the entire Milky Way galaxy. Only five percent of the population is human, and no Himba as ever gone. Binti is prepared to defy tradition, destroy her prospects of marriage, and venture out on her own for the first time in order to fulfill her dream of attending. But the trip to Oomza Uni is dangerous, taking the spaceship within the territory of the Meduse, ancient enemies of the Khoush people of Earth.

This novella covers a lot of ground. In the beginning it is about Binti’s role within her family, and her decision to leave in order to pursue her studies. As she travels from her home to the space port that will take her off-planet for the first time, it becomes more about the conflict and cultural differences that exist between the Himba and the Khoush. But despite these long-standing differences, the Himba are still caught up in the Khoush’s feud with the Meduse, a jellyfish-like alien race that regards humans as evil. Interplanetary relations are just as fraught as the relationships between the different people of Earth. The latest conflict comes about because some of the scholars of Oomza Uni have stolen something of great value from the Meduse, to be placed in their museum and studied. The Meduse regard this as an act of war, and Binti is caught up in the middle.

Coming from a desert place where water is scarce, the Himba use a mix of red clay and essential oils to bathe, known as otjize. More than hair and skin care, it is an important part of Binti’s identity, and also has symbolic value within the story. Waiting in line at the space port, the Khoush women standing behind Binti feel free to touch her hair without asking her permission, and then discuss her otjize as if she cannot hear them. They speculate about whether or not it is made of shit. Binti is defiant when a classmate on the ship to Oomza Uni says he could not help touching her hair, but she obviously also has a complicated relationship with it herself; she confesses that she is not proud of the Desert People blood that comes from her father’s side of the family because that is where her “dark skin and extra-bushy hair come from.” Later on however, her braids help the Meduse relate to her; they see her braids as similar to their tentacle-like appendages, called okuoko. This is but one way that her traditional knowledge serves her where Khoush ways have failed.

Although Binti is a short work, Nnedi Okorafor fits in some fascinating world-building details and cool science. The space ship that travels towards Oomza Uni has a biological exoskeleton, and is powered by the gases absorbed by the ship from the greenhouse inside. However, a big part of the plot does rely heavily on a mysterious, ancient device called an edan, which serves multiple functions with little explanation. Binti found the object in the desert near her home, and carries it as a sort of good luck charm, but does not know what it is made of, or its original purpose.

Binti is novella length, and the brevity involves a couple of skips and jumps that are a little jarring. I also wanted to know more about math current and especially the mysterious edan that enables so much of the plot. However, I do know that I have a bit of a bias towards novel length works, as I really like things to be well developed, so others may find this to be less of a problem for their reading experience. I’ve been meaning to read Okorafor for a while, and this does leave me eager to dig into one of her novels. Okorafor has also said she is “not through writing about her or her world,” and Tor has just announced the acquisition of two more Binti stories, including one that will take her home to confront her family. I look forward to seeing how this world develops.

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