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KWBC: Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

 
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PostPosted: Mon Sep 23, 2013 7:48 am    Post subject: KWBC: Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor Reply with quote

This month's book club pick was Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor.


First up, this is one of the best books I've read this year. I hope more than the two people who voted read it.

There's so much of this book that's very much rooted in reality, in a lot of the issues of race and gender. It seemed to me that to a large degree the fantasy here was not in the magic, but in the idea that Onyesonwu could fight off her would-be rapists, that she could undo her circumcision, that she could punish people for their hatred and ignorance. Because so much of what these characters go through happens in the real world, to people who don't have magical powers to stop it.

What did you folks think?
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PostPosted: Mon Sep 23, 2013 2:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Just got it for the Kindle yesterday. I'm enjoying it so far. I'll post as soon as I've a good sense of what it's about.

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PostPosted: Wed Oct 09, 2013 11:22 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Did you get far in the book, uss? What did you think?

I was looking forward to discussing this one. Ah well.

Here are some of the points I'd hoped to cover:

The history: In some sense the story bears links to the dying earth genre - a future-tech society that has already long vanished by the time of the narrative, advanced tech that works but people don't seem to have a detailed understanding of, an environment that seems at first to be devastated or dying.

Interesting to me was the story from the Great Book of how things went in the past: that it was the Okeke that had produced all of the technology, the computers and satellites and such, and their technology led to their downfall. The Nuru came after their fall, and gained dominance, ostensibly as punishment for the Okeke's hubris. Obviously anything written in the Great Book is suspect, but it is interesting that the Nuru perpetuate as common knowledge that it was the Okeke who invented all of the technology.

It's hard to really say anything about the setting as it relates to the modern world, as it's set in such a transformed future. We know it takes place in a version of the Sudan. There are functional GPS satellites, but we do not know who operates them (they may even be autonomous). Someone still manufactures the advanced water collecting machines that draw moisture out of the desert air.

We don't know anything at all about the rest of the world.


Another area of discussion relating to all this: I was left wondering if there was a deliberate attempt to throw western readers off with the way technology was introduced throughout the story. Technology wasn't mentioned much at all in the early parts, but then references later on would insert it back into those parts of the story.

In the childhood chapters, riding animals are mentioned but not vehicles, but then near the end Onyesonwu remembers how people in the village rode mopeds. She recalls using computers back in the village, when computers had not been mentioned previously. I may be wrong, but I believe the first mention of modern technology apart from water collectors was the music player carried by Binta when they were setting out into the desert.

Maybe I am simply revealing my own unfortunate biases here, but I was left with a suspicion that this was deliberately done to catch out western readers who had automatically, probably unconsciously, projected the story into a stereotypical and inaccurate image of Africa.
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 09, 2013 10:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I finished it a couple of days ago and enjoyed it a lot, but RL intruded in the form of moving house and having no Internet access for the best part of a week. It isn't until you lose it that you come to realise how dynamic and important the 'Net is now. My computer felt awfully dumb and useless for a couple of days Laughing

I agree with a lot of what you said in your post, Murrin. The post-apocalyptic theme is very present in the story and yet it doesn't seem that really important. The rewriting of the Great Book did seem like some form of technological magic (nanotechnology, maybe) but the main magic in the book seemed to me to be fairly straightforward fantasy magic. (If the apocalypse was technology related it may have been some form of Singularity.)

I'm not a big fan of this kind of magic-based fantasy. Sabriel for example didn't do anything for me at all. There is something very female about the nature of the magic in these kinds of books that rubs me up the wrong way. Maybe I'm more macho than I like to let on Big Grin I liked the overt focus on an issue like FGM, but I got fairly tired of the unrelenting central presence of 'intercourse'. I understand that female fertility is the key to how the book ends, but as the book went on it became a bit one note for my taste.

The ending also seemed a bit of a Hallmark moment and seemed to me to undermine the suffering in the story in a fundamental way. Was there really a need for a dragon?!

All that aside, the book had good pace to it and the writing was very slick. Very enjoyable, thanks for suggesting it, Murrin.

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 19, 2015 3:05 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dying Earth genre, huh? Do you think Nnedi read Jack Vance? There is some similarities in setting: a future post-apocalyptic society with technology in various states of functionality... and most importantly, a prominence of magic.

I had finished this book a couple weeks ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. As you guys suspect, the more fantastical elements pretty much remove what is currently happening in parts of the world just enough from reality so it can be considered by a more general readership under the guise of "escapism".

I also like how various aspects of the "Christ figure" are inverted in the main character of Onyesonwu... which also contributes to the over-all humanity of the work. There is very little appeal to a "higher morality" in her actions... I mean, she blinds an entire city and kills thousands with little to no remorse. It is kinda refreshing to see such a protagonist.

I'm still not sure what to make of the ending. Like u says, it kinda seems like a cheat... much like Life of Pi where it presents you with two endings and says, "hey, which do you prefer? That's the right ending, then!" I think it is smoother and more subtle than in Life of Pi, but it also creates problems on its own...including the unfortunate problem of reminding me of Life of Pi.

Overall, it was a nicely paced book with an interesting environment and cultures. I'll probably seek out some more of her work... well, at least her "adult" work. I kinda have some prejudice against "young adult fiction". It's not as absolute as it has been, but I don't really actively seek it.
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