Book Review: Who Fears Death, by Nnedi Okorafor

This is one that caught my eye a long time ago, I think though a blog, and I’ve been meaning to read it. The setting intrigued me, and the book has not disappointed. I bought it  from the Sony Reader Store over my uncle’s wifi, because I was amused at the convenience of being able to buy a book with my new e-reader without having to go home and hook it up to a computer, even to set it up. So, I got it on Christmas Day, when I got the reader, and finished it exactly a week later, on new year’s eve, at a party, huddled in a corner, going OMG there’s only 20 pages left, I can’t stop! Best book I’ve read since The Windup Girl.

What follows may be triggering – the setting is post apocalyptic africa, where the genocides and other activities related to genocides in africa have not stopped. Given that, I should not have to explain what sort of topics this review may contain that may be triggery.

Ok, that’s out of the way.

The story centers around the genocide of an entire people, and how rape is used as a weapon to destroy their spirit. It’s a heartbreaking story, but inspiring, because the main character is so driven. I was interested to see non-erocentric fantasy, and it’s a rich and ugly world that these characters live in. A world where a woman can scream for help to a crowd of onlookers as she’s dragged into an alley to be raped, and the onlookers stand there and watch. They are different people than we are. When Onyesonwu sets out to find her biological father who raped her mother, to stop his bringing his soldiers to rape her people, her mother doesn’t try to stop her, doesn’t try to make her stay home to protect her. No, she looks at her daughter and says, when you find him, kill him.

After some of the recent blog posts complaining about authors dealing with rape poorly, it was good to see it treated as it should be. The author never refers to it as sex, and doesn’t shy away from using the word rape to describe it.

The main character herself is sympathetic, and yet never wallows in sorrow, or if she does, the narrative doesn’t dwell on it. She’s a woman of action, and doesn’t allow herself to indulge in self pity, however lousy her lot. She fights to change it, and I find that the most engaging of character traits.

Onyesonwu also has a relationship with a young man, and it’s a rare one – a healthy one. It’s not that there is never any conflict between the two – not at all, there’s plenty of angst. It’s just not angst that tears them apart. They may argue passionately, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t need each other, or that they aren’t right for each other. It’s refreshing to see such a believable couple.

As for the main conflict, nothing is black and white there. As I said, it’s an ugly world, and an ugly war. There can be no victor in such a war. Neither side is innocent, and the story goes into child soldiers, even.

And it will take a miracle to stop it. That’s the sad thing. Much as I liked the book, it makes me sad to think that even in fiction, the author couldn’t find a way to end such atrocities without resorting to magic, which is something that we can’t hope for in real life.

It’s a book that really goes there. It’s very dark, but it’s beautifully written, and paced precisely. I feel like I’ve learned something about being human, that I’m ashamed to know.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s