Bintiby Nnedi Okorafor
Published on September 22nd 2015
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.
I decided not to read any of this trilogy until they were all released.Â I think that was a good decision.Â I bought the first two novellas and preordered the third right after Christmas.Â In the years since Binti came out I had heard a lot about it but somehow did not entirely understand what it was about.Â I knew that she was a girl from Africa who was going to university on another planet.Â I thought this was going to be the story of her schooling.Â It isn’t.
Binti takes place almost entirely on the ship on her way to the university.Â Binti comes from a insular culture.Â Family and tradition are of the highest importance.Â At the same time they are very technologically advanced and make advanced devices for everyone.Â Binti is most comfortable working with mathematical formulas.Â They help her focus and relax.Â She can manipulate electrical current through formulas.Â Sheis a harmonizer who can bring disparate things together.Â She’s supposed to take over the family business.Â Instead she runs in the middle of the night to go off planet.Â This is an ultimate betrayal of her family and culture.
Every time I read a Nnedi Okorafor book what stays with me is the imagination in the fine details more than the plot.Â It starts with Binti’s faulty hover technology that she uses to move her suitcases.Â It extends to the interstellar ships that are actually live animals that look like shrimp.Â They like to travel and are fine with taking passengers along.
This whole series is an exploration of what it means to be uniquely “you”.Â Does Binti lose her identity when she leaves her family or is she changing into an expanded version of herself?Â Is it right or wrong to change in that way?Â The women of Binti’s tribe wear a mixture of clay and oils on their skin to protect it from the desert.Â It marks her as an outsider from other cultures on Earth but it saves her when the ship is attacked.Â She is the only survivor and has to learn to use her gift for harmonizing to help stop a war.
The events of the first novella were very traumatic for Binti.Â She is still learning how to handle her nightmares in addition to the changes in her body after some Meduse DNA was placed in her.Â Is she still Himba with the addition of alien DNA?Â Will her family ever be able to accept her if she goes home?Â She decides that she has to go back to Earth to see.Â Her goal is to take part in a pilgrimage that will earn her place as an adult woman of the Himba.Â Okwa, her Meduse friend, decides to go with her.Â He will be the first Meduse to ever come to Earth peacefully.
Friends and family members turn their back on her.Â Then she is prevented from going on the pilgrimage by the arrival of members of a desert people who the Himba have always looked down on.Â They take her into the desert to explain their history to her.Â Her father is one of the them but he turned his back on them to become Himba.Â Again we get into questions of identity.Â Binti was raised to stay in her own community.Â Her world keeps expanding against her will.
While she is in the desert, her family and Okwa are attacked.Â Now she has to try to make her way back to see if anyone survived.
This was my favorite of the series.Â Binti is pushing through the boundaries that have been set for a woman of her age and tribe.Â As she grows, there is a ripple effect in her community.
I’m glad I read these almost back to back.Â This story picks up immediately where the last one left off.Â Binti is getting back to her village that has been attacked while she was gone.Â She tries to rally the survivors but meets opposition from people who believe that their nature requires them to stay neutral and out of harm’s way while other more powerful groups fight.Â Binti wants to use the power of her culture to bring peace.Â She is ignored because after all she is just a girl and a very poor example of a Himba, in the elders’ eyes.Â Â Binti is becoming a bit more used to her expanded world view though.Â She can see how to bring people together even though it is going to cost her everything to do this alone.
These books do a very good job of combining traditional Himba culture, other West African beliefs such as the importance of Masquerades, advanced technology, and alien civilizations without making it feel like one is automatically better than any of the others.Â Binti learns to incorporate all these aspects of herself into her idea of who she is even if she really doesn’t want to.
“I have always liked myself, Dr. Tuka.” I looked up at her.Â “I like who I am.Â I love my family. I wasn’t running away from home.Â I don’t want to change, to grow!Â Nothing … everything … I don’t wantÂ all this … this weirdness! It’s too heavy!Â I just want toÂ be.”
I would recommend this series for anyone who enjoys science fiction that is very personal instead of a vast epic.Â It is for anyone who ever felt like they didn’t fix exactly in the space that they were born to occupy even if they really want to fit there perfectly.