Remarks on Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
Thanks to Amy at Amy Reads I found out about Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor. She wrote an excellent review on this book which you can find here. Like her I was extremely impressed with this book. Who Fears Death is a fantasy novel set in a post-apocalyptic Africa. It is a well developed world where there are three main tribes subsisting in the desert. Magic or “juju” is used by several in this land where there is some technology, left over computers. There are sorcerers and a few sorceresses who practice strong magic. It is an elaborate world that Okorafor creates.
This is a book that raises many issues. Racism is one theme that is repeatedly explored. There are two warring tribes, the Nuru and Okeke, who are separated as the ruling class and slaves. The Nuru begin a process of genocide against the Okeke and extreme violence follows. Children from Okeke and Nuru parents are considered a separate race, Ewu, and are looked down upon and treated poorly by everyone. The protagonist, Onyesonwu, is a child resulting from the violent rape of her Okeke mother by a Nuru man. Onyesonwu and another Ewu, Mwita, are treated as outcasts and are both verbally and physically assaulted due to their different looks. Differences in the physical appearance of each in the tribes is outlined in much detail by Okorafor.
The status of women is another issue raised by this book. Women are not treated with the same equality as men. If an Okeke woman is raped and becomes pregnant her husband leaves her. The woman is left alone with the pain and shame. Old rituals are also performed. The prime one being the “Eleventh Year Rite” in which the girls undertake genital mutilation and magic is practiced on them that causes them to have pain whenever they have sexual relations. Once again much responsibility and shame is placed on the woman’s shoulders.
Onyesonwu is a character that challenges the societal conventions. Though she faces many struggles, she is ultimately an extremely powerful and strong character. The book is written in first person from the perspective on Onyesonwu and we get to follow her as she grows and makes her way through the world. I found this narrative style very easy to read and the book was able to continually capture my attention and pull me into it. Onyesonwu is a very sympathetic and generally likable character, though at times you want to scold her for doing and saying some of the things she does. All of the characters were written in such a way that each elicits specific emotions from the reader.
Using a fantasy/post-apocalyptic world as a means to showcase how societies can treat others is a brilliant touch by Okorafor. Even without the messages and issues that are faced by the protagonist and others this is a remarkable tale. The fact that rape, genital mutilation, status of women, and racism are all touched upon in this book make it even more valuable. The important messages are provided in an unusual and magical setting that makes reading the book extremely enjoyable.
I am personally a sucker for books where magic plays a role and there are strong female protagonists so this book definitely hits the spot. It is a beautifully written and well constructed tome that provides a bit of insight in how people behave. I would recommend this for anyone to read regardless of whether or not they are a fan of fantasy.