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Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor

Binti Home.jpg

It’s been a year since Binti and Okwu enrolled at Oomza University. A year since Binti was declared a hero for uniting two warring planets. A year since she found friendship in the unlikeliest of places.

And now she must return home to her people, with her friend Okwu by her side, to face her family and face her elders.

But Okwu will be the first of his race to set foot on Earth in over a hundred years, and the first ever to come in peace.

After generations of conflict can human and Meduse ever learn to truly live in harmony?
I loved Binti when it came out in 2015, and have been excited about Okorafor writing sequel-novellas in the series for since they were announced in April last year; so getting my hands on a copy when it came out earlier this year was rather exciting. But, with awards and anticipation behind Binti, did the sequel match the opening?

This review will contain SPOILERS for Binti.

Certainly, the novella picks up powerfully where Binti left off; it sees Binti studying at Oozma Uni, dealing with learning about her abilities as a master harmoniser and with the fallout of the events of the last novella – Okorafor writes about Binti’s PTSD and her therapy powerfully, and her emotions are one of the strongest draws of the story; they are really effectively put across to make the volume move the heart as well as the head, and to grip the reader and make them empathise with alien (yet familiar) experiences. The continuing character development is also powerful; Binti’s personal relationship with the world around her, with her family, with Okwu and the Meduse are all central to the plot, and the way Okorafor draws them each out is incredibly powerful and well written.

The plot is less strong, because it isn’t whole. Binti stood alone, and indeed every work of Okorafor’s I’ve read so far has been written as a stand-alone; seeing her approach to writing a series, it seems this is an important point, because Binti: Home takes us part-way through a plot and just ends, on a cliffhanger, having resolved nothing. This isn’t a neatly wrapped ending, it’s the end of the first part of a novel, the first act; the set up is here, but the rest of the story is apparently waiting for the third novella in the trilogy, a definite weakness (why not package the two as one novel?). Okorafor is usually good at endings, so it seems that the problem is in writing semi-endings; things for a book to end on that don’t wrap everything up.

One of the strengths of Binti is also doubled down on in Binti: Home and it’s one alluded to above; namely, that Okorafor is writing, in her (literally) alien experiences, allegories to very real situations and experiences. A lot of Binti and Binti: Home are concerned with prejudice and racism, and how that is taught to us and internalised even against the evidence of our own experience when it is what society believes; so Binti is both the subject of, and unconcious holder of, racist views about others, and Okorafor doesn’t suggest she’s inherently a bad person for this, but would only be if she clung to it in the face of contrary evidence. It’s an very sympathetic portrait of someone who has been raised as racist and cannot simply, in one go, shrug it off; almost too sympathetic perhaps given the real world we live in, but important all the same. However, at another point, Okorafor makes it clear she is not writing allegory; the very brief appearance of Haifa, a trans woman who is matter-of-factly introduced and totally accepted as female, setting the trans experience clearly outside the intentional allegories of the novella. (It is worth noting that while broadly well executed, Haifa’s self-description uses a phrase increasingly criticised and problematised by the trans community).

In the end, Binti: Home doubles down on many of the strengths of Binti, but the lack of any kind of ending makes it not work as a standalone very well; I’m eager for the concluding volume, but wish this had been stronger.

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