Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
|Book Name:||Who Fears Death|
|Formatt:||Hardcover / Paperback / Audio Book / eBook|
|Genre(s):||Fantasy / Post-Apocalyptic|
|Release Date:||June 1, 2010|
In the effort to break away from the overwhelming US/European cultural trend that runs rampant through so much of fantasy, I decided to start expanding my reading to a more diverse set of authors. For my first book I picked a story set in post-apocalyptic Africa: Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor.
The story is about the life of Onyesonwu, a child conceived by the worst kind of violence, and how she grows up to love and fight for the people she loves, and against those who would like to see her dead. Of which there are many. She also has the mixed blessing of magical abilities, made even more problematic by being the genetic product of two different peoples at war with each other, and being a girl. To say that a mess ensues would be to use the blandest and least descriptive of terms to describe the subsequent turn of events.
I adored this book. Onye is by far the best narrator I’ve read all year. She is given the worst circumstances that one could possibly have from the very beginning of her life and the way those terrible events overshadow her without eclipsing her fiery personality and her determination to stop a horrible man who did horrible things to her, her mother, and her mother’s people. Onye makes mistakes, eventually learns from them, gets frustrated, gets furious at her friends and loved ones, realizes that she’s been an ass at times and admits it to those she cares about. Her emotional range is awesome to behold and her intensity made me wish that the end of the book would never come. And then the ending flipped me around and over as smoothly and surely as a judo black belt, leaving me with nothing but the thrill of being airborne and a profound respect for their expertise.
I loved the balance stuck between explaining the cultural vagaries and differences and the immersion of the first person narration. Onye’s position as social outcast and outsider leads her to feel the need to justify to herself why she goes through with certain rites of passage, something that I found extremely helpful and humanizing as my exposure and understanding of the kaleidoscope of African cultures is woefully lacking. There were no “exotic others” here. Only people with customs created for reasons that made sense to them and to me once the reasoning was made clear to Onye.
The setting was as varied and dynamic as the narrating main character. In her quest for vengeance, the back of the book jacket says something about post apocalyptic Africa, but as far as I could tell, that didn’t really have a lot of bearing on the story itself aside from the odd device here and there. The graveyard of computers and the significance of it to the world building was interesting, a small comment on the transitive and transforming nature of technology and how it fits into society. Or not as the case may be.
I loved, loved, loved this book. It’s going on my list of books to grab in case I ever have to evacuate due to earthquake or fire.