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.
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!!"
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.
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