“Dear friends, are you afraid of death?”
—Patrice Lumumba, first and only elected
Prime Minister of the Republic of the Congo
The epigraph from Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death
Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
DAW Books, New York, 2010
Borrowed from my public library.
I have been introduced to Nnedi Okorafor’s books on several blogs over the past year. Her titles for young adults are quite popular, but I haven’t read them. After reading Who Fears Death I will change that.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book and the impact of it has me reeling.
In post-apocalyptic Africa one tribe has enslaved another. Now the Nuru tribe has decided to follow their “great Book” and eliminate the enslaved Okeke. Through rape as a weapon of war a girl child is born. This child is named Onyesonwu, by her mother. The word means “Who Fears Death” in an ancient language. As Onye grows up, strong-willed and determined, she learns she is marked by her unusual hair and skin color, a Ewu, considered an out-cast by some, a pariah by others. She also discovers she is different in other ways, she can shape-shift and travel outside her body. She is determined to be trained as a magician .
Because of a prophesy Onye and several companions, including her lover Mwita, travel from their village, heading west through a world of desolation. They are on a journey to find and destroy a magician, a very dangerous man named Daib, who is Mwita’s teacher and Onye’s biological father.
Okorafor has created a story where the past is unknown and I found myself wanting more of its history. Who Fears Death is a dark and timely fantasy that uses violence that occurs in present day Africa, both ethnic violence and violence against women, as the ground for her novel. It is a difficult book, at times very hard to read.
As I read, visualizing the rapes, female circumcision, stoning and genocide, all I could think of is that these things are happening in many places right now, not sometime in the far distant future. This mix of present day current events, fantasy and future technology makes for an intense reading experience, one that has me thinking deeply about what we human beings, through our beliefs and prejudices, can do to each other.
This is an important book. Even if you are not a fantasy fan I suggest you read it.