As some of you may know, I’ve been working on expanding my reading into more diverse authors and characters with a particular focus on female writers. This resolution led me to two of my favorite books last year, and this year has been just as fortunate so far because I discovered Binti by Nnedi Okorafor.
A woman of the desert, Binti is a brilliant mathematician and one of the Himba people who helps her father build astrolabs for the Khoush, members of the larger society that looks down on her people. The desert is her home, but when Binti is accepted to Oomza Uni, she defies her family and cultural tradition to leave her home — and the planet– to expand her mathematical skills. On the way through war-torn space, Binti learns more about herself, her limits, and her mathematical talents. It’s hard to go any further without spoiling any plot points!
I’ve not read a huge amount of science fiction yet, certainly not compared to the huge number of fantasy fiction I’ve consumed over the years, but I’ve never read anything quite like this before. The world that Okorafor creates is lush and vivid, yet so similar to our own potential future. The plot is simple, yet compelling and feels complete. It’s not just a space opera, it is a commentary on race and an insight into human behaviour and interaction. Despite her mathematical genius and otherworldly mind, Binti is someone that most of us can relate to in some way. She is young, she gets frightened and lonely, faces discrimination, doubts herself, and leaves her home and family behind in search of a better life for herself. She sticks to her roots, but is open to living in a world so different, and less accepting, from her own. Now, bearing all this in mind, consider that the paperback copy clocks in at only 90 pages.
It says a lot about Nnedi Okorafor’s talents as a writer to have been able to create such an incredibly fleshed out world and character in a single novella. I find most novellas and short stories not to my taste; they often feel lacking and incomplete and I’d rather read a full-length novel. Binti is a completely satisfying novella and doesn’t feel too short. I’m a pretty fast reader and I caught myself slowing down to savor the book so I didn’t finish too quickly.
Fortunately for me, the sequel releases in the UK on February 13! I eagerly await sinking my teeth into the next installment.