June Read for the Harare Book Club
Who Fears Death is a novel by Nnedi Okorafor first published in 2010. The book has been featured on Time’ s list of The 100 Best Fantasy Books of All Time and has earned several accolades for the author.
Who Fears Death has also been optioned as an HBO series with George R. R. Martin (of the Game of Thrones fame) as the Executive Producer….
Nnedi writes genre-bending stories combining myth, magic, juju and science to bring about what she identifies as Africanfuturism.
Who Fears Death is set in a post-apocalyptic Central Africa, Sudan to be specific. Two races; one with skin the colour of night, Okeke and the other the colour of the sun, Nuru, are pitted against each other… Rape is weaponised as the Nuru force themselves on the Okeke women in a strategy to obliterate their race…
The product of these violations are the Ewu, children of violence. Ewu have distinct physical features; skin, hair, and eyes the colour of desert sand and trademark freckles. They are despised by both the Okeke who birth them and the Nuru who sired them, born of violence and evil, they are evil and violent.
One survivor vows to birth to someone who will change the world and names the child Onyesonwu, which translates into “Who fears death.” Onyesonwu is a female Ewu and due to circumstances of her birth she carries mystical powers that could damn the world or save it, but first she she must figure out who or what she is….
While the book may have a young protagonist, it has oft been mislabeled as YA subject to it facing some criticism due to its dark and edgy content. Nnedi firmly expressed her position that this book is most certainly not a YA book and the title should give you an inkling that there will be death in it Who Fears Death
Nnedi weaves a compelling story, tense and unpredictable, it will keep you on the edge of your seat as you try and figure out where it will lead, following Onyesonwu on her path from being a girl to woman. Despite the bleakness of her creation and a sense of impending doom, Nnedi infuses her characters with humour at times dry and sometimes dark, but it complements the storytelling.
“We’ll never know exactly why we are, what we are, and so on. All you can do is follow your path all the way to the wilderness, and then you continue along because that’s what must be”
This book won’t jump and grab at you on the first page, you will need to give that a couple of pages as you immerse yourself into the world and get acquainted with this strange new desert landscape, bleak as a future destined for those who do not learn from history and doomed to repeat it.
Fantasy readers will recognize the trope of prophecies and someone destined to bring about great change to the world… A large chunk of the book becomes more of a coming of age story and about relationships between Onye and her parents (love and hate) her mentor who hates her, a roller coaster love interest and friends who mistrust each other… oh wait I thought we were suppose to read about the world burn or be redeemed…..
The thing about works of fictional fantasy is that they show more truth about society than anything else. Truth is ugly, truth is ignored and those who speak truth are persecuted or ignored…
Who Fears Death is not a light read, it has dark thematic elements, racial prejudice, patriarchy, oppression, slavery, religion, abortion,inter-racial children, war, rape; there is pain, hurt and evil violence, the main character is a child born of a violence….
Its not the easiest of books to read but its one worth exploring, and I am a fan of stories of magic, fantasy and myths from and about Africa.
Have you read this book would you read this book?