Binti by Nnedi Okorafor fulfills the category “An Afrofuturistic Book” for
the PopSugar 2021 Reading Challenge. The novella, part of a trilogy, begins
(probably) in Namibia and moves into space. Binti’s African culture and
traditions are fundamental to the story.
Wow, what did I just read? Binti reminded me
of the Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer, which left me with as
many questions as answers. I have no idea what happened in this book, but I
liked it! My husband is a hard sci-fi fan (which means he likes the “this could actually happen
because it’s based on real science”). As soon as I finished Binti, I
handed it over to him. He finished the series.
Binti takes place in the future. The earth has
changed, aliens have made contact, and science has progressed in huge leaps and
bounds. The world is not as we recognize it. Ms. Okorafor doesn’t take the time
to explain it all to it. It just is. I love a narrative like that. Forget the
back story and jump into the actual plot. Let the reader put the pieces
together themselves. To be honest, I couldn’t quite do it. I need to reread
this one before I move on to the next. There was some serious math in there!
Also, the technology is not really explained, but I
don’t think it’s
necessary. It just is. Instead, Ms. Okorafor concentrated on the culture, which
was essential to the story. Binti’s culture seems based on the Himba culture
from Namibia. In Binti’s time, tribalism still marks her every day. Her tribe
is famous for its technological skill and ability to use math to basically do
magic with technology. (It may not be magic to mathematicians, but I am not
one.) At the same time, her tribe adheres to very traditional values. They do
not leave home, and they use a ceremonial mixture of the clay from their desert
to coat their skin, an otjize. Binti breaks all tradition and enrolls in a
university in outer space. But she takes with her the otjize that is an
essential part of her culture and identity. It saves her life.
I won’t spoil this amazing book but will hint at its
themes. The blending of the old and the new is central to the tale. The author
seems to tell us to embrace new adventure, opportunities, and technology, but
never forget who we are and where we come from. In this modern age, I think the
lesson is essential for all of us. Too many people get bogged down with the “That’s not the way we did X
in my day.” And kids dismiss their parents’ and grandparents’ traditions and
culture. (Which is normal, they are kids.) But in her late teens, Binti shows
us we can blend the two—the old, the new—and be smarter for it. You never know
what will be critical information in a dire situation.
Enough hints! Go read this book. We can read Book 2—Binti
I give Binti
by Nnedi Okorafor Five Jars of Otjize.