2012 Book 139: Who Fears Death
written by Nnedi Okorafor, narrated by Anne Flosnik
Reason for Reading:
This is my fourth book for The Diverse Universe blog tour, in which we are reading speculative fiction books written by authors-of-color. Who Fears Death was a Nebula nominee in 2010 and won the World Fantasy Award in 2011.
This book takes place in a post-apocalyptic Sudan, which is peopled by two races–the dominant Nurus and their “slaves” the Okekes. Onyesonwu Ubaig-Ogundiwu (whose name means “Who Fears Death?”) is a the daughter of an Okeke woman who was raped and brutalized by a Nuru sorcerer and his genocidal army. Onyesonwu was considered “Ewu,” a mixed-race child who brings bad luck and violence wherever she goes. Despite Onyesonwu’s mother’s lucky marriage to a kind man, the girl spent most of her younger years feeling insecure and angry at the world. However, as Onyesonwu grew, she inherited the powers of a sorcerer…angry powers that she couldn’t control without the help of a teacher. This story is the coming-of-age of a young sorcerer destined to wreak vengeance on a violent father.
I am having a really difficult time deciding what rating to give this book. Okorafor’s writing was powerful (as was the reading by Flosnik). The story was compelling, though a few sections dragged for me–these parts could have been cut out to make a shorter book with no loss to the story. The genocidal violence and rape were described in disturbing detail, though these details were tactful and necessary. Okorafor used a post-apocalyptic setting to write a powerful story about issues (like genocide, female circumcision, and oppressive sexism) that are current problems in parts of Africa today. In fact, the most powerful part of the story (the consequences of human brutality) were disturbingly realistic and representative of the world many of us Westerners choose to ignore today. But, as disturbing as this book’s content was, there was also a ray of hope and optimism. And behind all of this darkness and light, there is the story of a girl who wants nothing more to love her man, her friends, and her mother despite all odds. (Well, ok, she also wants revenge…)
Nnedi Okorafor is the American-born daughter of Igbo Nigerian parents. She holds a PhD in English from the University of Illinois, Chicago. She is a professor of creative writing at Chicago State University. She has written several YA fantasy novels. Who Fears Death is her first book for adults.