"Binti" Reminds Us That We Write Our Own Stories (Book Review)
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I am a sci-fi junkie. I know it's not for everyone, but Science-Fiction is written for me. It's my favorite genre to read and the books always touch my heart in some fascinating way. I love the intricate world building that comes as the stories unfold, and excellent writers can make a walk down the street sound like an epic journey. I had been reading popular (mainstream/white) sci-fi authors like Ursula K. Le Guin and Douglas Adams since childhood but discovered in the last few years that there is a subsection of sci-fi stories where Black people and our histories are the focus. Called Afrofuturism, it is an extensive philosophical collective that takes from a mix of technology, magical arts, and history to help find solutions to the problems of the African Diaspora. And it sometimes has space travel, which is just fun to read.
One of the biggest names in Afrofuturism is Nigerian-American Nnedi Okorafor (pronounced Neh-dee Oh-core-ra-for). She is a college professor in New York state and she holds a long list of awards for a number of her works. In 2016 alone, her novella Binti won both a Hugo (2016) and a Nebula (2015). Note: In my quest to purchase a copy, I had to drive 45 minutes to the closest location that had ONE in stock, the ONLY copy of an award winning book within 150 miles of a major metropolitan.
I didn’t expect to finish Binti so quickly, especially since my responsibilities are a little more pressing than they use to be. But I just couldn't stop. I wandered around the house with this book in my hand the entire day, moving from room to room whenever I was interrupted. Obsession would be an accurate way to put it and I read all 85 pages before the sun had gone down.
Through first person narration, we accompany the title character Binti as she begins her journey into an unfamiliar place. Oomza University, the most prestigious school in the galaxy, offers her their highly sought out education due to her brilliance as a young mathematician. She would be the first of her nation to attend, leaving behind the only world she knows. No one in the port or on the shuttle is like her at all, and she is completely alone. Then the unspeakable happens on her transport ship, placing her in the middle of a war her people were never a part of. Can Binti to save herself and possibly countless others by the time her ship docks at its destination?
Okorafor’s writing and the story of Binti reminded me that my place in the world may have trials to pass, but how I respond to them shows my strength. We meet Binti as she makes the hardest decision of her life, and therefore, every decision after that is equally as important. Completely alone with only her tribe knowledge and the intellect, and she has to be her own hero. I held my breath when it called for it because her grief was heavy and troubling. Other times, I felt her triumph as I watched her find her strength again and again.
This is a familiar story of survival. How strangers believe it is their duty to remind us of our blackness and all the social ugliness people placed upon it. Binti had to had to learn how to trust herself because her life depended on it. She had to come to terms with who she was and not just what she had grown up to believe. I connected with Binti through her hair ritual and traditional dress and I appreciated that they were woven into her story as part of her essence. And I loved that she was kind, devoted, but conflicted. She was real and felt every bit of her 16-years.
Okorafor's storytelling is vivid and thorough, and no doubt that the spot on writing of the outsider experience is personal to her. Underneath the action and advanced technologies, this story is the equivalent of an out of body, sci-fi experience in regards to black womanhood. She introduces a beautiful world of space and technology through the eyes of an amazing young woman and does not shy away from the complexities of human emotions or experiences. She keeps you guessing and each new reveal is methodical, with as few words as possible. The format and length of the story are perfect, even though I wanted more. This story could easily fit among the current mythologies of our ancestors and I have not stopped recommending this book to people. So far, it is my favorite book read this year.
The best thing about this story is that Binti is just the beginning. Binti: Home, part two of what will be a trilogy, was released in January. You can find it in stores and online. You can follow Nnedi Okorafor on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
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About The Author
Black & Bookish is the brainchild of Antoinette Scully, educator and lover of all things bookish. She is on a quest to guide the authors of tomorrow into the bookstores of today. When she's not hanging out online, she's living it up as the mother of two rambunctious girls and wife of a local filmmaker.