I can’t say that I have read very many novellas, but I have wanted to read Nnedi Okorafor’s novel, Who Fears Death, for quite a while now, so I thought that I would read this novella as an introduction to her style. I am so glad that I did.
Binti is a 16 year old girl of the Himba people, who is not only leaving home for the first time, but is going into outer space. Of course, interstellar travel is common place in this futuristic Earth, but still. That’s pretty crazy! And on top of the interstellar travel, she’s sneaking out to do it! Binti is already showing us a lot about her character (strength, stubbornness, strong-willed, brave) just in these first few paragraphs. The story kicked into high gear once she gets on the ship that will take her to study at the Oomza University. Binti is, in very simple terms, a mathematical genius, and she is one of the extremely few (if only) of her people to be accepted to the University. Binti’s people rarely leave their homeland. The most interesting aspect of Binti is her culture. The Himba people cover themselves in a substance called “otjize”. Its made from oils and red clay that is native to their land. Of course, the Himba people are ostracized and ridiculed for their appearance and culture. This adds more dimension to Binti’s journey- she’s not only a young girl traveling on her own without her parents permission, but she stands out physically and culturally from everyone else around her. She is truly alone on the journey. The Himba culture plays a significant role in the rest of the story and adds another layer to the horrors that follow. Because you know there are horrors to follow.
I always appreciate a story with a person of color at its center. I also appreciate how Ms. Okorafor uses an African culture as a basis for the main character’s culture. Its a wonderful change of pace that I thoroughly enjoyed. The writing style is very clean and straight forward. There’s not a lot of description, but just enough to allow the reader to use their own imagination to fill in the blanks. Part of that has to do with this being a novella, but I get the impression that this is indicative of her overall writing style as well.
The story itself is definitely a page turner. The story takes, what is to me at least, a somewhat surprising turn towards the end. To me, this novella is an intriguing introduction to a new world. There is definitely a lot more story here, and I hope that Ms. Okorafor takes us on another adventure with Binti.