Review – Binti by by Nnedi Okorafor
Series: Binti, #1
This short read is intense and covers so much in terms of family, acceptance, dreams, independence and communication.
Societal and Family expectations
Told from the point of view of Binti, a sixteen year old teenager who lives in a stratified society. Binti is unlike her siblings, her tribe (Himba) and looks outward towards space. She takes her gifts for mathematics and technology and applies for a scholarship to a world renowned university. This is unprecedented, no member of the Himba has left the planet, their way of life is dictated – an Elder or bloodline determines your place in this world.
However Binti is curious and wants more, to see more and know more. Knowing she will be unable to obtain the consent of her parents, acknowledging that if she wants to take up this opportunity it has to be in secret, she sneaks away to join the transport spaceship on it’s way to Oomza University.
Already so much has happened and we haven’t even touched on the hook yet.
Part of Binti’s culture, her identity is the use of otjize, a mud, clay that the Himba use to cover themselves from head to foot. It makes them distinctive and is a critical part of their way of life. The reader will soon learn how crucial it is to the events that follow.
Joining the transport ship Binti seems like a fish out of water, her traditional way of life is at odds with other species and she is made to feel her difference. An emergency ensues: the ship is under attack from feared aliens and it is a fight for survival for all onboard.
Don’t expect more of a synopsis – This is a novella, so I’m not going to go into the ins and outs
Whether you like the science fiction or not, whether you like the maths behind it, the cultural emphasis, you must at the very least acknowledge the excellent representation of family dynamics. Even if it’s a different model to your own. The way it is carefully rendered, the reader is fully au fait with the rules, regulations and accepted ways of behaving. We are shown how tradition can sustain a lineage, build on its strength. The importance of convention. But also how it can be constricting and doesn’t allow for free expression.
This leads to the conflict (internal and external) Binti faced: follow your dream or the plans others have for you. And accept the reality of what that means if you don’t fall in line. In this case the abuse, the cutting off from the wider family which is expected but not the depiction of the grief that follows. Often not elaborated on is regardless of what you have gained by pursing your dreams and even if it’s the best choice for you – there is loss with or without regret. That was captured very well.
I liked how tough Binti was, working within her teenage framework, she made appropriate choices. She tried and she didn’t give up. She was open and receptive even when it didn’t seem like the obvious option. These attributes were saving graces.
Read Binti for the introduction to a world that is based on an Africa similar to here, covers the importance of addressing cultural differences and proving that communication is key to progress. Packs a lot in for a novella.
3 Stars -Liked It