Saturday, April 23, 2016

New Review! Binti by Nnedi Okorafor, 4.5 Cranky Stars

Binti is a novella and is a short, but powerful read. I read this book in under an hour, but I've been thinking about it for days.

It's clever. It's grounded in some pretty big concepts, backed up by theory, and with some subtle subversive thrown in.

My main issue with this story: I want more.

The story centers around Binti, a member of the Himba, who has been accepted to Oomza University. The Himba are a closed society, keepers of their traditions and culture, and the creators of highly sought after technology.

In the quest for a higher education, Binti leaves her people, an action which will make her an outsider amongst her own. She departs for the university and is a novelty outside. She is objectified from her hair to her dress and spoken about as an object, rather than a full subject.

Binti finds kinship with other intellectuals - students traveling to Oomza University - like she is and then disaster strikes. She encounters the Meduse, a race of legend and constructed as nightmares.
People in a place of higher learning have transgressed. Academic inquisition has crossed into cultural ignorance and insensitivity with potentially fatal consequences.

There is a lot to this short story. The tensions between Karl Popper's 'open society' and 'closed societies'. Western-democratic societies tend to side with Popper, viewing the open society as more egalitarian and enlightened. But, they have their own shortcomings too, being open doesn't mean one is necessarily 'aware.'

Binti is placed in the position of being an interlocutor between warring factions. A usual position for people of colour, especially women of colour, who are seconded into playing roles out of necessity, and sometimes, not by choice.

I've also read some reviews which identify Binti's 'exceptionalism' and while this is true, I did like the subversive aspect to this. Quite often, 'exceptionalism' of minorities is used to maintain the status quo. This time, it's used to bring peace.

The world building in this story is minimal. I don't mind that, but I did have a thousand questions, which remain unanswered.

I hope the author continues with this series. I, for one, will be looking forward to learning more.

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