In many ways, Binti resembles the kind of “exceptional child goes to exceptional school” story that has become popular in the post-Potter age. But Nnedi Okorafor‘s Afrofuturist novella has much more to offer readers than a trite fantasy. It’s the story of 16-year-old Binti, a member of the Himba people, who defies her family’s wishes to attend Oomza Uni, the Harvard of intergalactic schools. When tragedy befalls her transport ship, Binti is the sole survivor, and must face off against the Meduse, an alien race who have a legendary conflict with the founders of the university.
Much like The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate, Binti deals heavily in race relations. The Himba people are a real-life ethnic group who live in Namibia and Angola, often identified by their use of otijze: a reddish paste made of clay pigment, butterfat, and perfume. Binti’s identity as a minority Himba girl is frequently contrasted against the presence of a dominant — and fictitious — ethnic group called the Khoush. These light-skinned people do not use otijze, and many think it is made from offal. Nevertheless, they touch Binti’s hair without her permission, judge her clothing, and make ignorant statements about both her and the Himba in general.
What sets Binti apart is also what makes her strong. When the Meduse attack the ship to Oomza Uni, she is the only human to survive, aside from the flight crew. The aliens intend to wipe out the Khoush and their university upon arrival, and Binti’s cultural traditions, which are virtually unheard of in this part of the universe, play an integral role in keeping her alive. Faced with the task of stopping the Meduse from slaughtering everyone at Oomza Uni, Okorafor’s heroine rises to the challenge, and forces others to reconsider their relations with the people they have othered.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
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Image credit: Gustavo Jeronimo