Friday Review: Binti by Nnedi Okorafor (Audiobook)

Binti (Binti, #1)Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Read by Robin Miles

Binti is a Himba girl, born and raised in the African desert where her people’s talents with mathematics and harmonizing make them the premier makers of astrolabes (sort of like a combination cell phone, computer, and more). Binti is gifted in math even among her own people and receives the first ever invitation to attend Oomza Uni given to a Himba. Her family and friends are against her going, since no Himba has ever left their homeland. But Binti feels compelled to follow her heart which tells her this is her future. She leaves for Uni, but on the way, the ship she is on is attacked by the Meduse, murderous aliens who seem to only want everyone dead. Binti is the only survivor and quickly learns that her connection with the mysterious edan she carries as a kind of good luck charm helps her both avoid being killed by and learn to communicate with the Meduse. The Meduse have been wronged, and Oomza Uni is the center of that wrong. Binti must find a way to bridge the gap between herself, the Uni, and the Meduse, and forge understanding.

The first thing that struck me about this book is the writing style. It is on the surface simple and unadorned, but there is a lyrical quality to it that is lovely. The story is told from Binti’s point of view, and she sees the whole new universe that is unfolding before her through the eyes of someone sheltered by her people’s isolation. The Himba are looked upon almost as outcasts by the rest of humanity which doesn’t understand their culture and tradition. And, neither did I, in many cases, but I think that was part of the point. We get so many sci-fi stories that, while they may have foreign or alien characters, even protagonists, and yet, those characters are relatable to our Western cultures in many ways. Binti is truly foreign, almost an alien herself. She covers her skin with a red clay and oil mixture. She braids her hair in an intricate pattern that to her own people tells her family story, but to outsiders is just a hairstyle. She thinks differently, both because of her cultural upbringing, and her mathematical talent. At times, it was difficult to relate to her as the main character, just as Binti, at first, has difficulty relating to the other students on the ship, and the Meduse. But as Binti grows, so did my appreciation of those differences.

The world building in the story is as spare as the prose, but it fills in, layer on layer, to make a believable futuristic world where not all of the aliens come from other planets. This is not an action-filled space opera sort of story, and much of the plot unfolds in a quieter, more internal fashion. The story hinges on communication, and learning about differences. At the end, many things have changed, including Binti herself.

Though in many ways not a typical sci-fi story, Binti holds some of the best things about sci-fi. It looks forward, it challenges thinking, it encourages understanding and changing old perceptions. It is well worth the short time it takes to listen (or read).

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