Wednesday, April 25, 2018
[Book Review] Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
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.
Knowing that this was a science fiction book had me worried because I am not experienced with reading sci-fi but I am so happy I took a chance and picked it up! I ended up loving it.
Binti, a black African Himba woman, is an amazing main character. I felt her conflict when it came to leaving her family but also wanting to go to the Oozma University and learn to improve her knowledge of mathematics. Binti loves her people and their traditions, and plans to go home once she's finished her schooling because she loves where she is from. The Himba are very private and inward but Binti wants to see and learn more of the world. So to see her conflict of loving where she comes from but wanting to see and learn more from the world was really well done.
The plot had me hooked basically from the get go. The setting appeared almost instantly in my head and the whole novella played out like a story in my head. The writing and imagery was gorgeous. One thing I was worried about as I kept reading was that I wasn't going to be able to connect with the characters or even the story because it is such a short book. But I grew attached to Binti fairly quickly. I am not sure how I feel when it comes to the other characters on the ship. We don't get a lot of time with them because of events that happen in the story. All of the ship members other than Binti are not really characters but just names. In the end that doesn't matter too much, because the reader gets attached enough to Binti and that is the most important thing. However, I wonder if my reactions would be stronger to events that happen in the story if we got to know Binti's shipmates a bit more.
Nnedi Okorafor does a fantastic job at introducing Himba traditions to the reader, especially for someone like me who knew nothing about Himba people or their traditions before starting Binti. I think the Himba people's focus on technology and mathematics meshed really well with the science fiction futuristic setting the story was placed in. What was also really great is that despite Binta being a woman in a typically male dominated field like science and mathematics, she is not discriminated against for being a woman. The prejudice Binti experiences actually comes from being Himba. Because non-Himba people are so inexperienced with interacting with Himba and their culure they are judgemental and even rude to them. There is one scene in particular in the beginning of the story that is really uncomfortable to read because strangers to Binti (specifically the strangers are Khoush, who are written as Arab) are having an incredibly rude conversation about Binti when she's just a couple feet away from them. I think it was so uncomfortable because I do not doubt for a second that people of color have experienced scenes similar moments like this one.
Overall, I highly enjoyed this story. I am definitely requesting the next book in the series as soon as I can. I highly recommend this book whether you're into science fiction or not. For someone who is a complete newbie at this genre I am happy that I was able to really get into this story. If you've read it I'd love to know what you thought!