Book Title: Binti
Author: Nnedi Okorafor
Genre: Afro-Futurism, Sci-fi (Definitely not fantasy).
Pages: 55 more or less.
Synopsis: Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs. Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.
If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself – but first she has to make it there, alive.
What is Afro-futurism?
I don’t know either… but i think Nnedi Okorafor has an incredibly good idea.
When i began reading this story, i had no expectations whatsoever, as i had never heard about the writer prior to this (I stumbled upon the title and review somewhere and searched out the book). Steadily though, i had found myself being drawn more and more into the book as i had never experienced this “Afro-futurism” before.
So what is Afro-futurism according to Okorafor?
The first instance introduces us to Binti, a young mathematician, who is about to run away from home using her transporter.
I powered up my transporter and said a silent prayer.
‘Oh, so it’s that type of book’ was what i thought. That first line definitely piqued my interest.
Okorafor moves on to describe Binti’s growing faith in herself and adventures as she moves on the journey through the launch port and to Oomza Uni planet.
What i found most interesting about this “Afro-Futuristic” novella, was that it wasn’t exactly futuristic. It came off to me as another, very intelligent and creative, view on the invasion of colonials to the African continent. For instance:
Two girls who might have been a few years older than me, covered their mouths with hands so pale they looked untouched by the sun. Everyone looked as if the sun was his or her enemy. I was the only Himba on the shuttle.
Though very vague, you could guess what the writer was hinting at. She was able to build the main character as a strong, independent, ‘colorful’ girl from a rich culture. Otjize was a point of interest in Binti as a scene could not go by without it being mentioned. It is a special ‘lotion’ the Himba people wear on their skin (the Himba culture is a real thing- the people dwell in the Kunene region of Northern Namibia). It isn’t something one would see on a regular day and call beautiful, but the writer was able to paint a picture in my head about this very potent, fragrant, earth-colored lotion that is worn on the body, peculiar to a culture. Beautiful.
The Meduse (the jellyfish-like ‘aliens’) are another ‘well-done’ aspect of the novella. They were described so well that i found myself dwelling on images of what they looked like in my head. I even drew ‘fan-art’ of Okwu during a particularly boring class.
I also noticed that the writer did not limit herself when it came to names of the characters, as they ranged from igbo to yoruba to tribes that i don’t even know about.
It is clear that the writer knows what she is talking about and that she has wide range of knowledge concerning science, culture as well as fiction.
This attribute doesn’t bode well for Binti later on though, as soon, the display of knowledge became bland and unenjoyable. While I enjoyed the distinct writing style and interesting mix of cultures, i realized much too late that the book lacked a certain flair. At first, there were certain parts that were interesting such as this dramatic scene that left us practically drooling for more:
I was at the table savoring a mouthful of a gelatinous milk-based dessert with slivers of coconut in it; I was gazing at Heru, who wasn’t gazing at me. I’d put my fork down and had my edan in my hands. I fiddled with it as I watched Heru talk to the boy beside him. The delicious creamy dessert was melting coolly on my tongue. Beside me, Olo and Remi were singing a traditional song from their city because they missed home, a song that had to be sung with a wavery voice like a water spirit. Then someone screamed and Heru’s chest burst open, spattering me with his warm blood. There was a Meduse right behind him.
That was the ultimate ‘okay, sit up’ moment. Further along though, the build-up became too obvious and a little forced. There were many instances where Okorafor had the chance to grab our attention again- such as when Binti was stabbed by a Meduse or when the Meduse finally got to Oomza University. I expected a lot of drama during the confrontation between the Meduse chief and the Oomza professors, a sudden plot twist or at least the death of at least one character, but all loose ends were suddenly tied, a little too neatly if i might add.
I often found myself confused and it soon became a chore to finish (the book is just 55 pages by the way). Speaking of which, i felt the book was way too short and seemed rushed. If the writer had dwelt a bit more, maybe- just maybe- she would have been able to salvage the rest of the story.
Binti, definitely wasn’t the right book for me to start Nnedi Okorafor off with. That doesn’t deter me though, i have fallen in love with her writing style and gotten the rest of her books which i will start on shortly.
If you’re a true lover of Sci-Fi though and don’t mind the length or would like to see what this Afro-futurism is really all about, then i encourage you to get this book (notify for link in comment section). If not, then:
It wasn’t all bad though, Binti was able to inspire an architect, Olalekan Jeyifous, to produce a series of Afro-futuristic photographs of Lagos that i did enjoy watching. I feel they should be put for display at a museum or even for sale 😉
See the pictures below:
If you enjoyed these pictures, you can visit his site for more.
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