Book Review: Binti
Author Webpage: Binti | Nnedi Okorafor
Stars: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 1/2
Hints of: Red Rising, Polaris Rising, Children of Blood and Bone, The Deep
Warnings: The book has moments of graphic violence. I wouldn't suggest it for reading for children under 14.
Themes: Oppression, Prejudice, Mistrust, Diplomacy, Knowledge
A Quick Note: Buy the whole series, not just Book 1.
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 the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself - but first she has to make it there, alive.
Binti is Nnedi Okorafor's first story set in space.
This is the 1st of a 3 book series. I sat down this morning, and finished it in approximately two hours. This is in part due to it's length - approximately 100 pages. However it's also consuming.
It's concept is similar to the books I mentioned earlier - a young woman running from a home and family and a legacy to uphold. But it differs as she loves her home and family. Okorafor makes it clear she leaves understanding the shame she'll bring, it eats at her for doing so, but she must leave to fulfill herself. Binti was accepted to Oomza Uni, a top school in the galaxy - a planet who studies science, weapons and mathematics. Binti is the first of the Himba people to be offered a place there.
It is clear from the first chapter - when she board a shuttle to the station ("airport") that others, the "Koush", look down on her - who she is. Okorafor paints a narrative of a 1950's oppressive South in the U.S., as BInti walks through the bus. She wasn't welcome, she didn't belong, the "Koush" people - lighter skin, city living - are prejudiced against her. They are lighter-skinned, live in the cities, do not understand her small rural community, therefore it isn't accepted. Her village, while it makes technology Koush depend on, is beneath them.
Through the book, this theme of outward oppression shifts as communities of people - the Meduse, the Oomza Uni professors - walk their redemption arcs. While the Meduse are prejudice against Binti due to past waring with the Koush, assuming she is the same as all Koush they've met. The Oomza Uni people carry almost a colonization aura, as they don't trust her, yet want to study her. Binti's mother warned her they'd use her - it will be interesting to see this narrative play out in the series.
Something mentioned later in the book, she wears an oil/clay mixture called ojizi which she uses to bathe with. Fresh water is difficult to find where she lives, a desert-like land, and they don't waste it on cleanliness. In addition to her dark skin, it is part of the reason she stands out as while she sees it as a connection to her land, a healing energy for the Meduse in fact, Koush saw it as dirty, smelly, different therefore it threatens them.
Another focal point in the book is Binti's hair, from Koush women touching her hair covered in ojizi without permission, to the detailed descriptions of her braids which are coded with her family's history. When she loses her hair unknowingly by the Meduse in order to keep communication, you can feel her lose herself in that moment. It saves the Meduse and Oomza from war, but she further disconnects from her people. It felt like the start of assimilation in a way, and despite her re-creating ojizi to put on her hair and body to reconnect at home. The professor, Okpala, even says her home doesn't welcome outsiders. She refers to Binti as an outsider now.
A final theme that carried the story was the societal need for science, mathematics and technology. I am not strong in this area, so describing the use of equations to create a current or energy, the study of vibrations, the use of alloys and metals to create communication, it was difficult to wrap my brain around. Binti is incredibly strong in this area, she is intended to become the next master harmonizer after her father. Her knowledge of mathematics is how she's able to activate the edan to protect her from the threat of the Meduse. It is another reason Oomza wants to study her.
I said this story was consuming. However it is just under 100 pages, essentially a novella, and I was left wanting a lot more. I'm sure many of my questions will be answered in Books 2 and 3, but I longed for a foundation of her home, more history behind the Koush and Himba people, the Medusa and Koush war and the practice of harmonization and use of mathematics. Why is the edan called "The Shame" by Meduse? What is this God Stone? How was the Earth I know able to get to this point in technological capacity? Where on Earth is she? When on Earth is she? Or is this a different timeline entirely? So this is why I gave Binti 4.5 stars. The amount of questions I'm left with is close to overshadowing the story itself. But regardless, it is a fantastic story. I look forward to the next two books.
Also By Nnedi Okorafor: ZAHRAH THE WINDSEEKER
Drink Pairing: TBD
“Those women talked about me, the men probably did too. But none of them knew what I had, where I was going, who I was. Let them gossip and judge. Thankfully, they knew not to touch my hair again. I don’t like war either.”