When the Binti Series showed up in a Kobo email, I was intrigued by the beautiful cover art. That and the sale price made it impossible not to add to my Kobo library.
Binti is the first of the Himba people ever to earn a place at Oomza University. But leaving home means disappointing her family, giving up her place among them, and living among strangers who neither know or respect her customs.
And the world outside of home comes with many dangers. A war has been raging for years, and if Binti continues her pursuit of knowledge, she may find herself at the centre of it.
Let’s Get into It…
As I said, I bought the Binti Series on a bit of a whim, based only on reading the description for the first in the series. I brought all three books at once, and somehow my Kobo mixed up their order. Thus, I started reading Binti: Home (#2) first, getting halfway through before realizing my error. Yes, I was a bit confused. But not more than at the beginning of any novel with significant world building. I suppose that speaks volumes of Nnedi Okorafor‘s talent.
In fact, when it comes to worldbuilding, I would go as far as to say that Okorafor does an exquisite job. She brings together nature and technology seamlessly. Her descriptions are rich and even the most far-fetched elements feel grounded in realness. Okorafor includes just enough explanation for things to seem plausible without bogging the narrative down.
Turning to characters, I would say that Binti is a charming and relatable character. I love that she starts the series already having a good idea of who she is. She knows she’s a harmonizer and she knows she wants to go to Oomza University. So instead of seeing her struggle to make these choices, we see her deal with the consequences of them. It’s a wonderful exploration of confidence and self-doubt.
While there are other characters of interest, especially those that belong to different groups or species, this series focuses on Binti herself. (Binti is the title, after all.) I think this focus works really well for the novella format and for the story being told.
The Binti Series is also a thoughtful examination of prejudice and racism. Binti is Himba and she experiences discrimination from the Kouch and others who know little of her people. Yet, she is also biased against the desert people. Introducing non-human species to this mix adds another layer of complication. I especially like that the non-human species do not have anthropomorphized appearances. For example, the Meduse are jellyfish-like creatures.
Binti’s culture plays an important role in her life. Having cultural markers, like otjize, mean so much to her emphasizes the risks she takes when leaving home. Such elements also allow for exploration of the coexistence of tradition and adaptation. I can’t speak to how authentically Okorofor represents African cultures, but this series has made me realize how much I’ve been missing by not having read much African science fiction. (Recommendations in the comments, please!)
Final thoughts: The Binti Series is fascinating, rich, and captivating. I will probably need to read it again to absorb everything it has to offer.