Original review, July 2018: Awkward writing hampers an otherwise nuanced and interesting novella
Re-read review: Picked this up again for Book Club tonight. My reviews have certainly gotten longer–I read this in 2018, and had only just begun to dip my toes into reading (!) again, much less writing 500 word reviews of things I’d read. I think I still agree with my original synopsis, although perhaps not for the same reasons that I originally had while writing it.
I read this book for the first time as follow up for a job interview. One of my interviewers had asked me what I liked to do, and I said read. Because that’s safe, right, and I was a reader. But then he asked me what I liked to read, and I…blanked. I couldn’t think of a single thing I’d read recently (likely because I hadn’t) and didn’t want to name any of the books that I’d read ages back which I had defaulted to re-reading. I blurted out sci-fi, because that’s sufficiently nerdy right? And someone had just mentioned The Fifth Season so I mentioned that I enjoyed afrofuturism, because that was pretty niche.
Reader, you can guess what genre of book he in particular was a fan of. And I of course couldn’t remember the proper title of Jemisin’s book so I said “The Fifth Estate.” It had the effect of leaving him sort of confused and thinking I was referencing a book he didn’t know, so all in all hide saved. BUT he did recommend this book, which I promptly read that night in order to go back to him with a glowing review.
That aside aside, this book. I still agree that the writing is awkward at times. It does read like a novella, and to Okorafor’s point that her eleven year old helped her sometimes when the plot was stuck, the plot does dip and weave significantly for a 90 page novella.
But it remains interesting and nuanced, if not the way I thought when I first read it. I ran into Vajra Chandrasekera’s review in Strange Horizons recently and felt like she put into words a lot of what I felt with regards to Binti: http://strangehorizons.com/non-fictio…
Which is to say, the overarching messaging is one that seems sort of…uncomfortable? Hard to discuss without spoilers, so: Binti makes a choice under duress to work with the Meduse, who demand as a condition of her unwilling ambassadorship that she let go of the tool that gives her the ability to understand them and protect herself. And then, without her consent, the feature that most immediately ties her to her homeland and people–her otjize-covered plaits–is swapped out for okuoko. It’s a weird message. Especially since Chandrasekera also points out that the cabal of professors at the university have no issues speaking with the Meduse, with all their original body parts (so we assume). And the seemingly intractable conflict between the Meduse and the Oomza University’s history of rapaciously plundering other civilizations is solved by just giving back one (1) item (that was, yes, ripped off the body of the chief). Such is not how things work in the real world. If the Queen gave back her crown jewels, it’s not like all the animosity that India has for colonialism is going to suddenly vanish.