Every now and again I will find a book that will connect with me on a very personal level. It will be a book that will just sink into my bones and my heart, and become something wholly unforgettable. Binti by the breathtakingly talented Nnedi Okorafor is no exception to this remarkable feeling. I came across this book upon the suggestion of a fellow book-mate from Twitter, during a readathon event. She learned of my passionate appreciation for the science-fiction genre and shared the title.
Binti is a young woman of the Himba people, and she is the first of her people to ever receive admission to Oomza University, the finest educational institution in the whole galaxy. What should be viewed as the highest honor is not received with such admiration from her family. To leave her family and walk away from her people would be a great dishonor to the Himba. Her dream of obtaining knowledge is one that’s tied to quite the hefty cost, and it’s one that Binti is willing to pay. But as she embarks on this journey, Binti quickly realizes that this will be an excruciating trip—mentally, emotionally, and even physically.
Hard science-fiction that is not afraid to dabble in the vastly different and original is my most favored type of reading material. When done with care and affection, it can be a brilliantly enthralling and mentally engrossing experience for the imagination. Binti takes everything about science-fiction that I love—space, aliens, humans and their ability to adapt, or not—and weaves it into a story that’s exquisitely dynamic and invigorating. There are so many facets to this novella that made me swoon with satisfaction.
The first fantastic element: the writing. This entire piece of fiction is exhibited in 96 pages. I cannot recall how many novels I have read where even after 600 pages of world building and character interaction, utterly nothing of interest or relevance has transpired. But in Binti, within a handful of pages we get a story that has a distinguishable beginning, middle, and end. We are introduced to our female protagonist and informed of her predicament in an extremely fluid yet concise manner. Her background and her situation, the things that have brought her to the position that she’s in at the very start of the novella, is interlaced with plot progression through expression of emotions, conversation, flashbacks, and genuinely superb writing. Everything is introduced and then tied to something else; the feeling that something very important is missing never even registers.
If good writing isn’t enough to peak your interest, then how about an immensely unique and fascinating cultural aspect? The short narrative is built upon the foundation from a faction of African culture and beliefs, specifically the country of Namibia. The young woman with whom we become intimately tied to stems from a place where the practices and rituals of her people are profoundly ingrained into everything that makes her her. She holds on to her heritage as she gets ready to embark on a journey that will take her somewhere far, foreign, and frightening. Yet, in the midst of her adventure, she comes to realize that one day she will need to decide where her heritage ends and where she begins as an independent individual, and how much of that culturalism she’ll want to keep close to her heart.
This novelette taught me something new today. By being introduced to a culture that I knew nothing of, I discovered that originality is still very much alive, and when it is brought to life so beautifully it can be absolutely mind-blowing, whether it’s a thousand pages or a hundred. Braiding together elements of an African society and values with science-fiction and aliens is about as original as it gets! I started a novella with a new author and today I finish this review with admiration and respect for a writer who will forever be on my favorites list. Boom, five bloody okuobo out of five!