Who Fears Death

By Nnedi Okorafor

Place: Publisher & Year: New York: Daw Books, Inc., 2010

Genres: Fantasy, dark fantasy, science fiction, magical realism

ISBN: 9780756406172

Audience: Adult

Number of pages: 387

Setting: Jwahir & Seven Rivers Kingdom, Africa

Time period: An unspecified time in the future

Plot summary: In a post-apocalyptic Africa, Onyesonwu is born to an Okeke mother.  As a child of rape with a biological father who is Nuru, Onyesonwu is considered an Ewu.  As such, she is despised and mistreated by most people whom she encounters.  As the Nuru continue their warfare and genocide against the Okeke, Onyesonwu struggles to learn about her own special abilities, while teaching others that she is not evil.  She is, in fact, the one who will lead both Nuru and Okeke to peace and healing.

Appeal factors:

Pacing: Quick throughout the story, although the beginning and ending move more quickly than the middle.

Characterization: The story is told in first person through Onyesonwu.  The most important secondary character is Mwita.

Frame: Onyesonwu’s name means Who Fears Death, which provides the frame for this story.  While death can be something to feared, some parts of living can be more fearful (war, rape, genocide).

Story line: A truly unique story of hope and healing which blends elements of fantasy, science fiction, and magical realism in a vivid African setting.

Subject headings:

From Pima County Public Library:

Genocide — Fiction.

Magic — Fiction.

Africa — Fiction.

Similar works:

I could not find any works which were very similar.  The closest I could find are:

The Shadow Seeker – by Nnedi Okorafor (for young adults)

Imaro – by Charles Saunders

Mojo: Conjure Stories – edited by  Nalo Hopkinson

Personal notes: This was a very intense read.  I’m glad to have read it, even though it was not an easy read.  I really loved the descriptions of the desert and how the story unfolded.  I appreciated that not everything in the story had an explanation – I’m thinking of the scene with the spiders in the cave.  It was also great to read this book after having read Things Fall Apart, because it’s almost the exact opposite of that story – in terms of characters and outcomes. [ I really didn’t like what happened to Luyu.]  I definitely plan to read more of Okorafor’s work.

Other: Diversity – Okeke, Nuru, Ewu, Vah, shape shifters, sorcerers, slaves, rape survivor, outcasts

Themes – genocide, racism, sexism

Nnedi Okorafor’s website has a link to discussion questions for Who Fears Death.

In the “Acknowledgments” Okorafor notes Emily Wax’s 2004 news story, “We want to make a light baby”.   “This article about weaponized rape in the Sudan created the passageway through which Onyesonwu slipped into my world” (p. 387).


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