In a far future, post-nuclear-holocaust Africa, genocide plagues one region. The aggressors, the Nuru, have decided to follow the Great Book and exterminate the Okeke. But when the only surviving member of a slain Okeke village is brutally raped, she manages to escape, wandering farther into the desert.
She gives birth to a baby girl with hair and skin the color of sand and instinctively knows that her daughter is different. She names her daughter Onyesonwu, which means "Who Fears Death?" in an ancient African tongue.
Reared under the tutelage of a mysterious and traditional shaman, Onyesonwu discovers her magical destiny - to end the genocide of her people. The journey to fulfill her destiny will force her to grapple with nature, tradition, history, true love, the spiritual mysteries of her culture - and eventually death itself.
©2010 Nnedi Okorafor (P)2010 Brilliance Audio, Inc.
"Okorafor examines a host of evils in her chillingly realistic tale—gender and racial inequality share top billing, along with female genital mutilation and complacency in the face of destructive tradition—and winds these disparate concepts together into a fantastical, magical blend of grand storytelling." (Publishers Weekly)
I'm a voracious audiobibliophile, mainly interested in speculative fiction, with the occasional mimetic fiction or non-fiction title sneaking in.
This book is a journey, and it is at times an intentionally uncomfortable one. Set in a (far?) future subsaharan Africa, racially-based genocides continue between the Nuru and the Okeke. An "Ewu" girl (the result of the rape of an Okeke by a Nuru man) is given the name Onyesonwu -- "Who Fears Death". This book has magic -- in particular: shape-shifting, and traveling to The Wilderness, the space where spirits go after life -- and sand, and violence -- though this is not a book "about" magic, or sand -- and scenes which are both unsettling and gripping. The narration from Anne Flosnik here is quite primal; we feel the pain and, as often, anger of Onyesonwu and her companions and adversaries.
Okorafor's world is one where some technology remains -- portable computers with maps, water collection devices -- but this is not at all a book about technology. It is about people, and in particular the roles of women (and men) in a highly tribal culture. There are ruins -- old, paved roads -- but this is not a book about the past. It is also not a book about the future. It is a book which is quite present, and is highly recommended to readers with an interest in something beyond the beaten path, whether coming from an interest in fantasy or more mainstream fiction, and the willingness to travel on unfamiliar and rocky ground.
Fierce And Nerdy
I’ve been trying to figure out why I loved this novel so much, and one word keeps on popping up: hero. This book has a hero — I mean a real hero. I mean a “move over Clint Eastwood” em-effin HERO. Onyesonwu is fierce and intelligent. Never backs down. I could go on and on, but you know, spoilers.
Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
This novel was a bit different, but mostly different in a good way. Having read dozens of fantasy books set in quasi-European worlds, I appreciated finding one set in Africa. The cultural attitudes reminded me a lot of the Sudanese in Dave Egger's wonderful book, What is the What, so I felt immediately drawn into Okorafor's world. That world, to be sure, is a pretty grim one, full of prejudice, superstition, ethnic violence, misogyny, and other problems that plague modern Africa. The "post-apocalypse" setting is a little unclear -- all we really know is that it's sometime in the future, various bits of technology are still around, and that some sort of now-mythical past event brought about a new (or maybe not?) magical order to the world.
The heroine resembles a typical fantasy heroine in generalities. She's an outcast for reasons of birth, has latent magical abilities that gradually come to the fore, and is stubborn and persistent in the face of tradition. But, more than the archetype, she has a believably human and conflicted voice. The other characters and cultures felt suitably complex, too, and different enough from my own experience that I became absorbed in the world. Be warned, some the themes are pretty mature, from scenes of violence and rape to some frank sexuality, so this isn't a novel for readers looking for lightweight escapism. Even the friendships between characters are infected by social attitudes -- the protagonist has to battle her own lover’s idea that it’s somehow not right for female sorcerers to be more powerful than male ones.
I did have my frustrations. The storytelling could have used better editing in places, and in later parts of the book, magic begins to be relied on too heavily as a plot device, at the expense of organic character development. The setting never entirely made sense to me, either. The levels of technology and magic are a bit inconsistent, and the minimal establishment of background history made the import of different events unclear. And I’d take a point off for the stilted use of “prophecy”.
Still, I’m not sure that these issues detracted too much from my overall appreciation. Onyesonwu’s story feels like a humanization of a myth -- the raw, unfiltered version prior to its formation into legend. Even a world in which magic is real might still be like our own in that heroes are flawed, “evil” is something that resides in all people and can’t just be blamed on a select villain, and powers don’t always make sense, even to those wielding them. Worth reading if you’re looking for a serious-minded fantasy novel set in an interesting world.
...my 3 words?..."who fears death?" I am being serious.
The ending, the dual ending in a sense
the depth and the grit. Reading words on a page can't get the feel of sand in my hair or the absolute pain a person can feel into my mind, versus listening to a very carefully constructed illiad...
I got a little choked up when I read about the male lead and the female side kick...
Critiques say you should read this book in one sitting, I disagree. If you do it will eat you alive like quick sand and never let you go!! I had to walk away from this book because my life demanded it, when I did walk away I could hear the narrator calling out "Onye`!" that urgent hiss is going to be stuck in my head until I read it again! Its calling to me "Onye!" "Read me! Read me again!!"
Powerful, absorbing, refreshing
When Onyesonwu, Luyu, and Mwita take shelter in the "haunted" cave
Yes, I have listened to Anne Flosnik's narration of Robin Hobb's Rail Wilds trilogy. To be honest, I found her narration of those novels quite irritating, and thought she did a much better job with Who Fears Death. But, see my additional comments, below.
So many—Onyesonwu's friendship with the blacksmith, who became her stepfather; Aro's decision to teach Onye; the reconciliation between Onye and her friends Luyu, Diti, and Binta (you'll know which one I mean); Mwita's declaration of ifunanya; etc. etc.!
Anne Flosnik did a good job with the "African" accent she adopted for this novel. However, I disagree with the producer's decision to ask it of her. There's no reason Onyesonwu needs to sound like (a white person's idea of) what an African sounds like when they are just learning to speak English. I could understand it better if there were non-African or native English-speaking characters in the novel, from whom Onyesonwu needed to be distinguished; but that is not the case. All the accent does is perpetuate the idea that fantasy/sci-fi novels dealing with non-Western cultures/settings are foreign and strange. Put another way: If you were to read this novel, you would "hear" Onyesonwu in your head speaking with your own voice/accent. I can't help thinking Okorafor would prefer that kind of reader-character identification to the "othering" effect created by Flosnik's artificially imposed "black African" accent.
no, it drags
I only got about halfway through the book before deciding that I really wasn't enjoying it enough to continue. I know the speaker's accent was appropriate but I found it annoying after a while. Also the story dragged on and on and was slow and predictable.
The subject matter.
I quit reading after the graphic clitorectomy.
the interpretive reading is excellent. You experience the dust, the pain, the rejection. The performance is well done, but I want to escape problems, not wallow in them.
It is probably a good book for someone else to read.
I had to stop listening about about an hour - the narrator was like nails on a chalk board. I think that the story may have been interesting, but the only thing I could hear was that irritating voice.
The narrator is supposed to enhance a story, not become the focus of the story. This narrator failed miserably.
"Just Brilliant, but not for the fain hearted :)"
I was simply spellbound by the book from start to the end. Upfront I would like to say that this is not a book for the faint-hearted, as it contains so much violence and therefore makes it very hard to read at times. Okorafor depicts violence without flinching, and because most of the events echo what is still happening in a lot of countries around the world, this hits hard. We are confronted with topics such as genocide, rape, and female circumcission - showing us how brutal and stupid the practice is. Although, I have to say she doesn't glorify the violence she depicts, she more less tells it in a matter-of-fact way. She does, however, glorify everything which is beautiful in this story such as love, kindness and some of the magic.
In Okorafor's post-apocalyptic Sudan we find fragments of how the world used to be, but what makes this story different is that we don't have all this descriptions of technology long gone. Which usually plays an important part in a lot of post-apocalyptic stories. What I enjoyed was that it was more about the characters and the plot. Here, we find two predominant ethnic factions: the light skinned Nuru and the dark skinned Okeke. The Nuru feel that they are superiour and commit genocide against the Okeke, which includes both murder and rape. The Nuru enjoy to rape the Okeke women in a deliberate and violent manner, in order to impregnate them to show them how powerless they are as a race. This mixed offspring are called Ewu and treated as outcast on both sides, they are despised and shunned. The word Ewu means born of pain and violence, therefore the people believe that those children will themselves become violent.
Onyesonwu who's name means "Who Fears Death" is the result of such rape. The first six years of her life she spends with her mother in the desert as nomads, then her mother takes her to a city to give her the chance of some education. Still a child she develops more and more magical powers, which sets her even further apart from others. She meets Mwita who is also Ewu, and lives with the powerful sorcerer Aru. Mwita's abilities are the healing arts. Aru refuses to take Onyesonwu as his apprentice for several years, because he fears the powers she has. Her abilities, though extraordinary, cause her more grief than anything else. Aru only agrees to apprentice her when he discovers her ability to raise the dead and what impact her powers can have on a larger community. A few years later, she and her friends go on a quest, to confront and destroy Onyesonwu's biological father, who himself is a powerful sorcerer and the mastermind behind the genocide. However, it is important for Onyesonwu to save her mother's people from the impending war, the ongoing slavery and genocide of her people.
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