Sunday, June 12, 2016

Who Fears Death Book Review

Rawr Reader,

I'm a little late with this review since I finished this a couple of days ago, but I think I'm on a really good reading streak and I can only hope it keeps going. This is Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor, the synopsis borrowed from the front flap of the American hardcover edition: 

In a post-apocalyptic Africa, the world has changed in many ways, yet in one region genocide between tribes still bloodies the land. After years of enslaving the Okeke people, the Nuru tribe has decided to follow the Great Book and exterminate the Okeke tribe for good. An Okeke woman who has survived the annihilation of her village and a terrible rape by an enemy general wanders into the desert hoping to die. Instead, she gives birth to an angry baby girl with hair and skin the color of sand. Gripped by the certainty that her daughter is different---special---she names her child Onyesonwu, which means "Who Fears Death?" in an ancient tongue.
From a young age, stubborn, willful Onyesonwu is trouble. It doesn't take long for her to understand that she is physically and socially marked by the circumstances of her violent conception. She is Ewu---a child of rape who is expected to live a life of violence, a half-breed rejected by both tribes.
But Onye is not the average Ewu. As a child, Onye's singing attracts owls. By the age of eleven, she can change into a vulture. But these amazing abilities are merely the first glimmers of a remarkable and unique magic. As Onye grows, so does her abilities---soon she can manipulate matter and flesh, or travel beyond into the spiritual world. During an inadvertent visit to this other realm she learns something terrifying: someone powerful is trying to kill her.
Desperate to elude her would-be murderer, and to understand her own nature, she seeks help from the magic practitioners of her village. But even among her mother's people, she meets with frustrating prejudice because she is Ewu and female. Yet Onyesonwu persists. 
Eventually her magic destiny and her rebellious nature will force her to leave home on a quest that will be perilous in ways that Onyesonwu can not possibly imagine. For this journey will cause her to grapple with nature, tradition, history,true love, and the spiritual mysteries of her culture, and ultimately to learn why she was given the name she bears: Who Fears Death? 

 I'm usually good with this section but I honestly can't remember. I'll have to credit Goodreads, because it has an eye-catching cover and there have been many a time I click on a book because of its cover.

(safe for those who haven't read this book)
    I have to get into the habit of intentionally picking up a book set in another country or continent because sometimes it's too easy to only gravitate toward the best-sellers or the ones with the pretty covers----all conveniently set in the US. Now I've found one that I know I'll never forget. Set in the distant future where cultures haven't lost their essence of family and religious diversity, the darker aspects of society like prejudice and corruption are just as omnipresent. The building blocks of society, interwoven so naturally and inerrant, Okorafor convinces the reader that her words aren't just pressed ink to a page--- they're life and memory and fantasy and truth.
   Onyesonwu is a character that we love to love and love to hate. While she isn't my favorite character of all time, I mean I wouldn't run to be her friend at first, but she's a character I admire and one that is written to be beautifully flawed. She's tempestuous and headstrong. A nature and disposition that comes to being Ewu---and that's only the beginning. Onyesonwu encounters friendly and hostile cultures and characters that react to those like her, broadening her view of the world and offering a better understanding of the world she's trying to save; all while trying to control the magic and powers that she's still trying to understand.
    Constantly while reading I kept thinking okay, when is this story going to stop tearing my soul apart. Not only does Onyesonwu see the ugly side of society because of her skin color, but she's had to be exposed to other gritty and unnatural violations of human nature. With all of this in mind, to every dark, there is light, and Onyesonwu is supported by friends and finds a love that matches her destiny as the Chosen One. But not the trope Chosen One, the trope we've all gotten our full of; I felt that Okorafor redefined how the Chosen One trope should be written. It wasn't thrown in your face all the time, but a subtle undertone. And this is reinforced by our unreliable narrator: our protagonist, Onyesonwu.
   At first it seems this story is told in the present---only to realize it's in retrospect. I won't get into details since it's part of the plot, but similar to Zusak's The Book Thief, the narrator will have grown on you by the end. 
   What was probably the hardest element for me to get past was the writing. It flowed at parts, but then sometimes I felt the syntax became distractingly jarring. The story would unravel so naturally and then I'd stumble as the sentences became incongruent. Then there were multiple grammar errors which wasn't the author's fault---but then it is. And her editor's. And since the author is credited for having a PHD in English and teaches creative writing at a university---I'll have some standards.
   All that, and I still was so absolutely in love with this story and these characters. I'm the type of reader who treasures a good story over good writing any day. You can be the best writer in the country but without a compelling story, it doesn't mean I'll ever recommend your book or read it again. 
    *One thing I really want to inform potential readers on is that this books deals heavily with sex and rape. If this is a trigger for you, I would recommend on passing this story, because as amazing as everything else is, it's too frequent to skip over and still keep the essence of the story. 

I give this book 5/5 stars.

“My library was -- all libraries are -- a place of ultimate refuge, a wild and sacred space where meanings are manageable precisely because they aren't binding; and where illusion is comfortingly real.” 
― AndrĂ© Brink

My Goodreads:

Next To Read:

River Song's Spoilers:
(unsafe for those who haven't read this book yet, so don't read this section)
     I need to say how thankful I am that this became a group journey; I really only expected Onyesonwu to go on this journey on her own. Mwita wasn't just the love interest, he became a true companion and comrade in arms. He foiled Onyesonwu's character in almost every way without losing his sense of romantic connection. While I was surprised to be introduced to a love interest since Romance isn't a subgenre listed on Goodreads, I'm happy that Onyesonwu was surrounded by love, romantic and platonic. I especially loved Onyesonwu's and Luyu's relationship, how it developed and how it grew. I really admire authors when they put just as much focus and attention on friendships, particularly for secondary characters, as they do on romantic relationships since it's easy to write flat friends and not give them layers or even a real personality that makes readers just as emotionally unstable as main characters. 
   And not only characters, but then Okorafor introduces contrasting cultures that each distinctly shape and transform Onyesonwu's understanding of the world she wants to save. Some are similar to her own and others are what she'd never imagined. Otherworldly. All with their own customs that baffle and perplex Onyesonwu, the woman who can transform into a bird and step into another world. I haven't read a book of this size, that isn't a series, that has such diverse societies. I think Okorafor managed it flawlessly and I can't wait to read another work of hers.

Until Next Time,
Nicole Ciel

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