Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor – Book Review

Nnedi Okorafor: Who Fears Death – Book Cover

Africa in an imagined future apocalypse. The why and how of the apocalypse is not explained, and Okorafor doesn’t delve into its impact on the present, just a few scattered half-sentences and done. But you feel like there’s no need for more; this gives just the right amount of mystery to the book titled Who Fears Death. However, the daily life of the black continent, from tribal hatred to superstitions and child soldiers to the ritual mutilation of women, is just like what you see in the media today.

This picture is complemented by magic, which fortunately is not the Harry Potter kind of spells (Curriculum Vitae, etc.) and the world of childish waving of wands, but rather a well-functioning nature magic within its own framework.

After a promising and magical start, a few chapters into Who Fears Death, the text slows down, everything becomes more insignificant, and it starts to stagnate. There’s a very thin main plot, and Nnedi Okorafor stretches it out with all sorts of childish conflicts, resentments, and sulks. Although the blurb says this is the author’s first novel for adults, it seems more like a slightly overthought young adult novel. Events trickle slowly, neither too interesting nor too boring, but they have little to do with the main storyline, often feeling unnecessary.

Black people shouldn’t feel like a curse is upon them, not now, not in an imagined future post-apocalyptic world, that’s the main message of Who Fears Death. Plus, transcendent femininity (ha-ha) can work wonders if it’s given enough sacrifice. Unfortunately, it won’t work without it. However, these lessons are wrapped in a lot of unnecessary text. (And why the “ha-ha”? Well, because you can put transcendent femininity on your hat while developed countries export weapons instead of knowledge to the black continent… oh, and while the residents there routinely pepper each other with Kalashnikovs and slice each other up with machetes.

And despite Okorafor’s text being imbued with a commendable level of concern for present-day Africa, you still feel like the author will accomplish much less than intended. And the long and drawn-out spiritual wanderings in Who Fears Death only manage to culminate in a feeble, philosophical conclusion.


Who Fears Death (Who Fears Death #1) by Nnedi Okorafor
386 pages, Hardcover
Published in 2010 by DAW Hardcover

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