Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor is a read that is not for everyone. Set in a post-apocalyptic Africa (Sudan), Who Fears Death tells the story of Onyesonwu, a child born out of rape. She is Ewu—a half breed rejected by both tribes. One that is expected to live a life violence. Yet she is not your average Ewu—Onyesonwu is special. From a very young age she’s been shown to have remarkable abilities and magic. We the readers follows Onye’s journey as she gains control over her powers and set out to understand why she was born this way and given the name: Who Fears Death.
The way a child is conceived is not a child’s fault or burden.
Having the pleasure of reading this book as part of the #DSFFBookclub hosted by Naz of Read Diverse Books, I have to say that this was a difficult read. Not only does Who Fears Death, grapple with weaponized rape, incest and sexism but it also deals with genital mutilation and a plethora of graphic violence. At one point in the book we read of a woman getting stone to death and another one getting torn to pieces limb by limb by an angry mob. These sort of scenes within the book made it hard for me to read and I had to put the book down several times before going back in. That’s not to say that the book was bad—it’s just weighty.
While I know this is supposed to be set in a post-apocalyptic Africa, I felt the setting and many of the tribes were antiquated and super traditional and conservative. Maybe that was a way for the author to be political and criticize some of the things in her country but for me it didn’t make sense. At least not for the way the book is supposed to be set up. Remember this is set in a post-apocalyptic, dystopian Africa, yet it didn’t feel that way when reading.
Another thing I had problems with is the world-building or lack thereof. Yes, everything is desert like but I just need a little bit more in the description and details besides the fact that there were sandy dunes everywhere and the sun was a blazing furnace.
Despite the fact that Who Fears Death was a difficult and heavy read to digest, it was beautifully written, with amazing storytelling. Onye was spunky and head strong and I love the way she challenged and questioned the status quo. She didn’t let the fact that she was woman and Ewu get in her way. She was persisted and determined to be treated as an equal in of what her gender dictated how she should be treated.
Overall, Who Fears Death was an eye-opening read that is sure to start many discussion. Yes there are times when the dialogue is a little short and blunt, which disconnect you from the story but it’s a good read if you can handle the in your face violence. I mean if you can read Games of Thrones, I think you can get through this book. So take a chance out of your comfort zone and give Who Fears Death a try.
Nnedi Okorafor’s books include Lagoon (a British Science Fiction Association Award finalist for Best Novel), Who Fears Death (a World Fantasy Award winner for Best Novel), Kabu Kabu (a Publisher’s Weekly Best Book for Fall 2013), Akata Witch (an Amazon.com Best Book of the Year), Zahrah the Windseeker (winner of the Wole Soyinka Prize for African Literature), and The Shadow Speaker (a CBS Parallax Award winner). Her adult novel The Book of Phoenix (prequel to Who Fears Death) was released in May 2015; the New York Times called it a “triumph”. Her novella Binti will be released in late September 2015 and her young adult novel Akata Witch 2: Breaking Kola will be released in 2016.
Nnedi holds a PhD in literature/creative writing and is an associate professor at the University at Buffalo, New York (SUNY). She splits her time between Buffalo and Chicago with her daughter Anyaugo and family. Learn more about Nnedi at Nnedi.com.