This is the title of a fantastic book I just read – a meld of magical realism and post-apocalyptic African science fiction that reminded me of why I love speculative fiction so much. It can be an escape, a transport into another universe, and, at its best, a mirror we hold up to ourselves and the flawed world we live in. Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor, a Naijamerican writer, definitely comes in the latter category. It won the 2011 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel. It’s not hard to see why.
I heard Nnedi Okorafor speak at the 2015 Toronto SpecFic Colloquium last March – a very cool event, I must add, with great speakers and a bag of goodies (BOOKS!) for all attendees. Nnedi Okorafor was the Guest of Honour. She described herself as Naijamerican – Nigerian American – and regaled us with stories of her girlhood growing up in America, and visiting Nigeria. Right then, I knew I wanted to read her work. And I started with Who Fears Death because I love the title.
The main protagonist is Onyesonwu, a girl whose name means ‘Who Fears Death”. The daughter of a black Okeke woman raped by a brown Nuru man as part of a systematic Nuru campaign to oppress the Okeke people, Onyesonwu grows up knowing she has special powers. The world she lives in – a far-future Sudan, post-genocide – is all too believable, too horribly familiar to those who have read about the Darfur conflict. But Onyesonwu has the power to reshape her world, to rewrite the holy Book, if only she can accept who she is, and the sacrifice of those she loves best.
I didn’t read any reviews of the book before I read it, so it wasn’t until the haunting last line that the whole book just ‘clicked’ in my brain. Highly, highly recommended. I will be reading more of Nnedi Okorafor’s stories.
Talking of African speculative fiction, I am pleased to announce that my story Charaid Dreams, which was originally published in Apex Magazine in March 2015, has been reprinted in the new Sub-saharan Magazine. Thanks to Editor Walter Dinjos for picking this one up, and for the venture into African speculative fiction. We need diverse stories, and I am looking forward to reading this magazine in the coming months!