Binti (Binti, #1) by Nnedi Okorafor
Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.
Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti's stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.
If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself - but first she has to make it there, alive.
Published by Tor.com on September 22nd 2015
Where to Find It: Amazon|B&N|Shop Indie|Goodreads
Genres: Science Fiction, Fantasy
Source: Purchased Book
Overall review – 5 out of 5:
This deceptively simple tale is a fast paced yet compelling journey of strength, sacrifice, self-awareness, and ultimately homecoming. Absolutely worth the afternoon you give up to read it.
Binti is the telling of a young woman striking out on her own in search of knowledge; reaching for a destiny bigger than her home life. As you learn Binti’s motives, her world opens to you through vibrant descriptions and purposeful interactions. Binti seeks education beyond that provided by her father, her elders, her people. This is not her people’s way.
“Stop chasing fame and be rational. You can’t just leave and fly across the galaxy”
The opening scene of the story lures you in with its sharp descriptions that fully convey her urgency in the moment. Will she make her shuttle? You’re immediately invested in the success or failure of her endeavor. With simple, but pointed word choices, Okorafor reveals both Binti’s inner-most thoughts and the essence of her people through concise, yet vivid storytelling. The by-play between those internal musings and the external conversations of those around her captures not only the depth of her feelings but the social mores of her people. This is as story richly anchored in time and place. You come away with a deep understanding of the homeland Binti leaves behind and the space beyond Earth into which she travels. You quickly come to realize, along with Binti, that where you’re from and who you are may just be vital to keeping you alive…even if it can’t keep you whole.
“I stood there in, my strange body. If I hadn’t been in deep meditation, I would have screamed and screamed. I was so far from home.”
With few words, Okorafor invokes a subtle conscious-raising commentary on prejudice, provocation, perception and societal progress. Binti’s travels imparts an understanding of her father’s motivations and her people’s beliefs that mirrors real world struggle between wishing to maintain one’s cultural traditions while simultaneously advancing one’s self. She weaves various concepts of community and juxtaposes them against notions of commonality. Her writing has an attractive cultural sensibility that is highly relatable and extremely evocative. This story begins as joyous quest for knowledge and ends as a heartrending lesson in understanding.
I first read Binti in 2015. I never posted a review (my day job sucked up all my reviewing time and all available oxygen…or at least it felt like it) but rabidly recommended the book to friends, family and strangers. This story recently won the 2016 Hugo Award for best novella. This, of course, means I was right and everyone should listen to me!
In all seriousness, in the days since the winner announcements, I’ve seen more media coverage given to the controversy surrounding a certain online group’s attempts to undermine the nomination process in protest (of what I’m still not quite sure). As a reader and lover of books, I feel the best way to combat this is to actually TALK about the stories that were nominated and the winners. This novella wasn’t nominated because a woman of color wrote it. It didn’t win because a woman of color wrote it. It won because it was good, damn good.
On a side note, if you’ve never looked at the full artwork that is the cover design then you’re missing out on a truly beautiful image.