There seems to be no better day than today, International Women’s Day, to talk about an extraordinary piece of science fiction written by the brilliant Nnedi Okorafor, about belonging and identity from the perspective of a powerful young woman.
You might recall that Binti was one of my two favorite works of science fiction of last year. It was evocative. Beautiful. Frightening. Most importantly, it was different. It managed to pack an incredible and vibrant world, a complex and compelling protagonist, and a spectacular plot into a fairly short piece of fiction. It told a story that could have easily fallen into the category of sci-fi tropes, but it avoided them by applying a unique voice and perspective through Binti, it’s main character.
Binti: Home finds Binti after about a year at Oomza University. A year after she heroically (and accidentally, if I recall correctly) brokered peace between two warring planets. A year after she left home in the dead of night, against the wishes of her family and community, to study what is essentially mathemagics off-world. Binti’s experiences have changed her enormously—represented by a physical transformation: her dreaded hair has become like the tentacles of the jellyfish-like Meduse.
The physical change is a vital piece of the story, not an on-the-nose metaphor for the internal changes in Binti. Much is made of physical appearances in Binti’s world, from the red clay she adorns herself with to the tribal intolerance she suffers at the hands of the upper class on Earth (and at Oomza U), and to the seemingly strange behaviors of the “desert people” that Binti’s tribe finds less-than-worthy of a seat at the table.
As Binti is a story of perseverance and growth in the face of different types of adversity, Binti: Home is a story about shedding preconceived notions and inbuilt intolerances; about how experience inexorably changes us, and changes how the world sees us. The events of Binti were, for the most part, things that happened to Binti. In Binti: Home, she is confronted by the reality that despite her lack of agency or choice in most of the things that happened to her, she is blamed. She is mistrusted. She is made a pariah.
The things that happen to us leave a mark. Sometimes, it’s subtle. Sometimes, it’s as dramatic as having tentacles for hair. Binti: Home explores the intersection between changing personal identity and changed external perception. It’s a fascinating, emotionally resonant exploration of an eminently relatable condition, couched within beautiful prose and a once-again spectacular plot.
Nnedi Okorafor has once again left me deep in thought. While Binti: Home wasn’t as explosive a read for me as its predecessor, it was nevertheless a spectacular book. Nnedi Okorafor’s storytelling is masterful, and she has made a lifelong fan of me with Binti and Binti: Home. I eagerly await the next installment of Binti’s story.
Binti: Home is available on Amazon.