skygiants: Clopin from Notre-Dame de Paris; text 'sans misere, sans frontiere' (comment faire un monde)
[personal profile] skygiants
Well, if you are used to Nnedi Okorafor's fantastical coming-of-age YA novels, her latest (and first adult novel) Who Fears Death is most emphatically Nnedi Okorafor Darker And Edgier. The book, set in a postapocalyptic Sudan, matter-of-factly presents you with a whole lot without flinching: the protagonist, Onyesonwu, is ostracized as the child of militarized rape; her three best friends are the girls she went through circumcision with; the main plot revolves around Onyesonwu's quest to realize her destiny and stop a genocidal war. I don't mean to say that it's pointlessly grim or gratuitously violent, because gratuitous is definitely not the word, but the point of the book is to talk about these things and all the smaller evils that grow out of them.

The main thing that struck me about this book is that Onyesonwu is one of the angriest Chosen One protagonists I've ever been inside the head of. She's angry at the sorcerer who won't teach her despite her obvious talent because she's female, and she's angry at her boyfriend for learning from him; she's angry at the townspeople who ostracise her because of her background, and she's angry at her friends for not understanding how hard it is for her; she's angry at the whole world for not caring enough about what goes on everywhere else, and she's angry at herself for being angry, and fulfilling the commonly-held belief that a child born of violence will inevitably be violent. Sometimes riding along with Onyesonwu when she unleashes her anger can be incredibly liberating, and sometimes it's exhausting. You're aware, from the beginning, that a happy ending for Onyesonwu herself is unlikely. Happy will be if she completes what she sets out to do, and ends the war that began her.

That being said, the book itself is very balanced in its portrayals of the situations and the characters. Nnedi Okorafor is not shy about her stance as a feminist and activist, and Onyesonwu is clearly angry about a lot of the same things as the author is, but the people who show prejudice aren't demonized; even the Big Bad, Onyesonwu's biological father, has hints of a complicated backstory (which does not in any way excuse his actions). The pacing of the story is much less balanced, and I'm not sure how I feel about the end, which comes in kind of an explosive rush after a long and meandering quest-journey and which I think would work better if it was not such a sudden slam-dunk. But I think it would be worth the read for the experience of Onyesonwu's voice alone.

Date: 2010-09-16 05:08 pm (UTC)
ceitfianna: (books)
From: [personal profile] ceitfianna
She's on my list of authors that I really want to read, annoyingly the grad has most of her books on order. What would you recommend starting with?

Oh and I recently picked up a copy of Fire and Hemlock and its odd. I keep thinking of Hexwood and A Strange and Wild Magic and sort of wanting to peer into DWJ's head and figure out what she's up to.

Date: 2010-09-16 05:26 pm (UTC)
ceitfianna: (Tiwa playful)
From: [personal profile] ceitfianna
I will definitely do that. It helps that I can sort of see what she's referencing in terms of mythology and I like Tom a lot and Granny. Ooh, I should join that community.

Thank you, I'll keep an eye out for that one.

Date: 2010-09-16 07:38 pm (UTC)
jothra: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jothra
...I don't know if I've recovered from all the Octavia Butler yet.

But I really liked The Shadow Speaker...

Maybe I'll read her other YA book first.

Date: 2010-09-16 07:57 pm (UTC)
jothra: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jothra
Or maybe I'll read this one first and then go for the happy ending.

Date: 2010-09-16 08:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
That sounds like a must-read. But then, that goes for all of Nnedi Okorafor's books as far as I'm concerned. Too bad the local libraries don't agree.

Date: 2010-09-16 08:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I mean I guess they get a little bit of a pass for the fact that they're foreign books in a different language for libraries in your country . . . but STILL.

Yeah, no, the section for books in English is roughly the size of, say, the biography section. Or picture books. The librarians just like to pretend fantasy doesn't exist. "We bought all of Eddings and Kerr! Do we really have to buy more stuff? And why should we put things we actually like, like Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell in the fantasy section? Then the fantasy people might read it!"

I have a pet peeve. :-) At least I managed to get them to buy Zahrah.


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