Saturday, February 12, 2011

"Who Fears Death" by Nnedi Okorafor

Summary: Onyesonwu is Ewu, a child born of the rape of an Okeke woman by a Nuru man.  The Okeke people have been enslaved and under the power of the Nuru people, and now the Nuru people are determined to follow the Great Book and wipe out the Okeke completely.  But Onyesonwu is not only Ewu; she also has the powers of a sorcerer, and with the help of her companion, lover, and fellow Ewu Mwita, she may be the one to rewrite the Great Book forever.

Musings: Although Who Fears Death appeared on a number of best of 2010 lists, I was nervous to read this book for awhile because of the graphic nature of the rape and violence in the book. Difficult as it is, that material is there, though it's integral to the plot of the story.  Onyesonwu is a child of rape, and violence will be a part of her life, though she works hard to go beyond the expectations that Ewu children will be nothing but violent.  Onyesonwu is a strong-willed and stubborn narrator who fiercely believes in equality of the sexes.  Her companion Mwita is similarly determined, and I liked the way in which Onyesonwu and Mwita butt heads yet unconditionally support one another.

There's an element of magical realism in the sorcery that appears through the book.  Onyesonwu's powers are revealed piece by piece, though occasionally I felt overwhelmed by the variety of magic and abilities introduced.  The novel is also science-fiction in some ways, as the setting is a post-Apocalyptic (presumably future) Africa.  However, the setting never felt quite right to me; the characters have access to computers, though they never use them, so I really had no idea how much technology played in their lives.

In the end, I'm somewhat ambivalent about the book.  It's well-written with complex world building and compelling protagonists.  At the same time, the story always felt "off" in some way to me, and I was often reluctant to pick up the book each day, even though I read rapidly and with interest when I did.  However, I've been complaining about the dearth of POC fantasy and science fiction, so I'm thrilled to see Who Fears Death, which has the added benefit of being very much a feminist novel, receive so much attention and praise.

- Read as part of Presenting Lenore's Dystopian February.
***This book qualifies for the POC Reading Challenge.


  1. I'm currently reading this and the genital mutilation scene might be one of the hardest scenes I've ever had to read through. I was practically trembling with both sadness and rage.

    Computers have been mentioned so far, but it doesn't sound like they have access yet? Maybe even in the future, there are still some areas of Africa that need developing?

    Mwita and Onyeswu don't really seem like a 'cute' couple but I love them so far, they do argue a lot but they support each other wholeheartedly. Great relationship. And so far Onyesowu has a decent relationship with her girl friends too.

  2. It was definitely tough to get through that scene, though I could see why it was included. I think I liked that Mwita and Onyesonwu's relationship was not typically sweet but still undeniably strong. Hope you enjoy the rest of the book!