Why You Need to Read: “Binti: The Complete Trilogy”

Binti: The Complete Trilogy                                                      

By: Nnedi Okorafor

Published:  Binti(#1) released September 22, 2015

                 Binti: Sacred Fire(#1.5) released February 5, 2019

                 Binti: Home(#2) released January 31, 2017

                Binti: The Night Masquerade(#3) released January 16, 2018

                Binti: The Complete Trilogyreleased February 5, 2019

Genre: Science Fiction, Afrofuturism, Anthology  

Winner of the Nebula Award for Best Novella 2015 & the Hugo Award for Best Novella 2016

PLEASE NOTE: The following contains minor spoilers for all four novellas. You have been warned.

I am Binti Ekeopara Zuzu Dambu Kaipka of Namib (Binti).

            Every once in a while you hear about a story that is so unique and so captivating that it is suggested that everyone should read it regardless if it’s not from their preferred genre of literature. Bintiis a story about a young woman who leaves her home—without her family’s blessing—so that she can take advantage of an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attend the most prestigious university in the galaxy, Oomza Uni. She boards a spacecraft and it is traveling to a distant planet, and Binti has never been away from her home before. It seems like the story will pick up pace once the spacecraft arrives; only it is attacked by a “hostile” alien species. This is the first part of the first novella in the series by Nnedi Okorafor—which, won both the Nebula and the Hugo awards for “Best Novella”—and, neither the action, nor the story ends with the first novella! Binti: The Complete Trilogycontains all of the author’s stories in one volume!

            Bintistarts off with a simple plot: a gifted young woman goes against her family’s expectations in order to attend an esteemed university. Readers are introduced to Binti’s intelligence for mathematics, abilities as a harmonizer, and Himba culture. At the same time, readers are reminded that human differences and alien versus human culture clashes exist in the future as well. One particular rivalry between the species quickly becomes the center of the story, quickly. Binti has to find a way to survive her new—and unexpected—predicament, which will be hard because the Meduse, the hostile alien species want her dead. 

            Binti is terrified to the point where it’s easier to blame herself for her current situation rather than realize how sheltered she was back on Earth. Binti soon realizes that she must rely on her abilities and her talent in order to understand the situation and escape with her life. However, Binti is not in control of either her abilities, or the tools she has with her. This means improvising. She soon realizes that her astrolabe allows her to communicate with the Meduse on the spacecraft. Binti is able to come up with a strategy to save herself, the lives at Oomza Uni, and the lives of the people on Earth, including her family. Even though she succeeds, the experience of Binti’s excursion to Oomza Uni changes her in more ways than one.

            Binti: Sacred Fireis the latest story written by the author in this series, but it serves as an interlude between the first and the second books in the series. This tale provides an appropriate look into Binti’s life as a student at the university she saved. She has become friends with one of the Meduse, Okwu, who is now a student at the university as well. Readers gain insight into Binti’s interactions with her classmates and her professors, and her family and friends back home (the ones who are willing to talk to her). 

            Unfortunately, Binti’s new life at Oomza Uni is not as smooth as she hopes. She is suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder from her voyage to the university and from the bullying from a few of the humans who happen to be from a feuding tribe from Earth. Although Binti is hailed as a hero for negotiating a truce, she feels as isolated at Oomza Uni as she did back home. Not to mention, Binti is still dealing with some personal “changes” to her being. 

            Even though Binti is traumatized and isolated, she is not alone. Her friends are with her as she works her way through her adjustments and her traumas. Binti knows that it’ll take a while to get used to her new lifestyle, but it seems like she’ll be getting the full university experience. 

            Binti: Homeis about what is in the title. Binti completes her first semester or year at Oomza Uni and decides to return home to visit her family and to participate in her tribe’s pilgrimage. Binti has made progress at the university: in her classes, in her therapy sessions, and in her reputation as a Master Harmonizer. However, returning home means traveling by spacecraft, and it’s the same one Binti traveled on to get to Oomza Uni.

            The spacecraft—known as The Third Fish—is a living thing that flies in outer space. Binti—who is still suffering from PTSD—decides to stay in the same room she stayed in during her first voyage in order to face her trauma. Throughout the voyage, Binti is able to make some progress of dealing with her panic attacks and flashbacks. However, Binti still has to face her fear of reuniting with her family. And, since she’s lived away from her home for a while, she’s forgotten some of her people’s more casual customs. Binti has changed in more ways than one because of her experiences. Unfortunately, her family and her tribe are static in their ways and are disgusted with Binti’s changes and growth. 

            The purpose of a pilgrimage is for an individual to seek growth through moral and spiritual growth. Oftentimes, that individual becomes enlightened and transformed by the end of their pilgrimage. This is what happens to Binti during her pilgrimage even if it isn’t the pilgrimage she was supposed to go on. The pilgrimage Binti goes on brings her to a new level of personal enlightenment. And, she is made aware of her own prejudices and slowly comes around to accepting the changes she’s been experiencing. At the same time, the prejudices surrounding three different clans have erupted, and Binti—once again—must rely on her skills as a harmonizer in order to diffuse the tensions before war breaks out. 

            Binti: The Night Masquerade starts where Binti: Homeleft off, with Binti rushing back to her family home after her pilgrimage in order to stop a war before it starts. The Night Masquerade is a personification of the coming of a “big change.” To Binti, she interprets it to mean a war is about to start. And, Binti plans on ending it before it can happen.

            Cultures clash, hidden history is revealed, and someone always gets betrayed. The POVs change so that the readers have a better understanding of what is happening during certain parts of the story. Within the conclusion to this series, readers realize that not everyone is willing to accept change, not everyone wants to interact with someone who is “different” from themselves, and not everyone is willing to admit he/she/it/they have flaws. Binti comes to terms with all of this as she returns to Oomza Uni just in time for the upcoming academic year. All of her experiences and changes within herself allow Binti to elevate herself beyond the status of Master Harmonizer. However, Binti wishes to continue her studies, for the time being. 

            It was thrilling to read Bintiagain. And, Binti: The Complete Trilogyallows readers to enjoy all of the Binti stories in tandem. Fans of Nnedi Okorafor and readers of speculative fiction will appreciate this series compilation as much as I did. Reading through Binti’s life as a university freshman reminded me of some of my experiences during my first year of college as well, including the changes in myself and the stagnancy of everything else. Bintiis a story about personal growth through experience and change, and how expectations depend on individual actions, not those of others. This coming-of-age story is pleasing to all readers and it should not be overlooked. And, readers can rejoice knowing that Nnedi Okorafor has plans to continue Binti’s story! 

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Why You Need to Read: “The Wolf in the Whale”

By: Jordanna Max Brodsky                                                   

Published: January 29, 2019

Genre: Historical Fiction, Folklore, Fantasy

  Garbed once more as a man, I entered the blood-soaked iglu. I sawed at my hair so it brushed the tops of my ears as a man’s should. I wore a man’s knife in a sheath looped across my chest. I carried a woman’s ulu in my pack. The wolf in the whale had gone south. And so did I. (Chapter 22).

            When I first received the ARC for this book, I did not know what to expect from it; however, the description of the story caught my attention and I read it with an open mind. The Wolf in the Whaleis an interesting story about gender roles, family, survival, cultural differences, and religion. Expectations placed on the characters—and the gods—within the story drive the narrative as well. Readers will gain insight into the first inhabitants to reside in and the first travelers to North America almost 500 years before Christopher Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci.

            The protagonist of this story is also our narrator, who is retelling the events of her life. Omat was born with her father’s spirit as a hunter and with her grandfather’s abilities as a shaman. Hence, Omat is raised and treated as a male by her aunt, her grandfather, and her tribesmen, and she is expected to become the next leader of the tribe much to her cousin’s, Kiasik, chagrin. At the same time, the gods of the world—particularly the Inuit and the Norse—fear the changes to come due to the rise of a new and powerful monotheistic god. Unbeknownst to her, the gods mark Omat as a “threat” for she is expected to bring forth Ragnarök, or the end of the world. The gods’ fear causes Omat’s family to suffer from starvation and isolation. However, anyone who is familiar with myths, legends, and prophecies know that the more anyone tries to prevent a prophecy or an event from happening, the more likely it will occur. Omat’s interaction with her family, other tribesmen, the Vikings, and the gods and the spirits shape her character as she transitions from adolescence to adult. 

            The plot of this novel is broken down into 3 parts: Omat’s bildungsroman, the gods’ fear of the end of their lifestyle and adoration, and the Viking exploration. All of these plots drive the story and provides some insight into how early settlers came to inhabit the Americas, and how the interactions—even brief ones—brought elements of cultural diffusion to Omat’s tribe. The Viking “visit” is based on historical and recorded events; yet, it is unknown as to why they did not remain in the Americas. As for the motives of the gods, anyone who is familiar with religion and myths—or, Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and/or Rick Riordan’s books—know the gods depend on both the worship and the stories from the mouths of mortals and shamans for their existence. A new, single god could jeopardize the lives of the rest of the gods. Omat’s journey and growth to becoming a leader means learning from other leaders—the good, the bad, and the worst—meeting challenges from the environment and from other people. Omat manages to overcome these obstacles, but not without repercussions. At the same time, Omat does learn some things from each adversity, which ensures her survival. 

            The narrative is divided into 5 parts: Omat’s birth, family and growth into an angakkug—or shaman; Omat’s power and livelihood being threaten by a visiting tribe who only see Omat for her sex and not for her abilities regardless of her gender; Omat’s journey south in search of her cousin and meeting a Viking, and seeing other people live beyond her world; Omat’s captivity amongst the Vikings; and, Omat’s role in Ragnarök, and its aftermath. All the while, the gods are watching the events unfold and they make decisions for their interests, which do not consider the impact they will have on the mortals. Given the multiple subplots and the story, the later parts in the novel are told in real-time. While this is both appropriate and believable for the plot, it makes the story seem slow at times. Omat is retelling this story. These events already happened—she either was told, or she experienced them—and we are led to believe that this stream-of-consciousness narrative is reliable. 

            The author, Jordanna Max Brodsky, has a degree in History and Literature from Harvard University. The Wolf in the Whaleis a historical fiction fantasy and folklore novel. This story is not only about the brief “meeting” between the Inuit and the Vikings—and other early settlers—but also a look into the folklore—a body of culture, traditions, tales, religion, etc. shared by a particular group of people—with fantasy elements (i.e. gods). The descriptions of the lifestyles of both the Inuit and the Vikings make the story more immersive. The cultural diffusion added by the author’s historical knowledge make the story more believable because the exchange of knowledge amongst various groups of people have been, and continue to be, a necessity for human survival and progression. This novel is a credible story of journey, survival and growth as seen in the author’s style. These elements add to the various dangers all of the characters face from the weather to each other. The realism makes the difference and it flourishes in this novel. 

            Readers who enjoy historical fiction might enjoy The Wolf in the Whale more than those who enjoy fantasy. This is because the historical and the anthropological aspects drive the story more than the appearances of the gods and the spirits. That is not to say fantasy fans won’t enjoy this book, they might not appreciate it as much as historical fiction fans. This is the author’s first standalone novel. So, readers who are curious about the author should read this novel. Fans of the TV show, Vikings, and/or the video game, Never Alone, should find The Wolf in the Whaleto be a well-structured story with the right amount of cultural elements that makes it more believable than the “what if” concept.

            The Wolf in the Whalecaught my attention due to its description about “clashing cultures and warring gods.” I was not sure what to expect from the novel besides shamans and Vikings. Being clueless, but open-minded about the novel allowed me to read the story as it is, and not what I thought it was going to be. The topics of sex and gender roles, culture, survival, interactions between different groups of people, and family drive the story as much as the history and the fantasy within it. There were times in which, some of the real-time events dragged the story. There were times in which, I wanted more from certain characters, but realized it would have diverted from the protagonist. Overall, The Wolf in the Whaleis a speculative fiction novel that is a hybrid of fantasy, folklore, history, and anthropology. I was immersed in the story from start to finish. I recommend this novel for anyone who enjoys an eclectic mix of genres in fiction. 

My rating: Enjoy It (4 out of 5)!

Why You Need to Read: Little Fires Everywhere

Little Fires Everywhere

By: Celeste Ng

Published: September 12, 2017

Genre: Fiction

 

Mia looked down at Izzy, this wayward, wild, fiery girl suddenly gone timid and dampened and desperate. She reminded Mia, oddly, of herself at around that age, traipsing through the neighborhood…(Chapter 7).

In fact, she (Izzy) reminded him (Mr. Richardson) of her mother, when she’d been younger…the fiery side of her (Mrs. Richardson) that seemed, after so many safe years in the suburbs, to have cooled down to embers (Chapter 9).

 

Continuing on the success of her debut novel, Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng continues with exploring the family dynamics of Americans. Shaker Heights, Ohio is an upper-middle class neighborhood in which, all of the residents strive for the same thing: principles. Set during the late 1990s—before the Internet, smartphones, Columbine, and 9/11—this novel is a look back to American society when studies regarding adolescent rage and angst were emerging in mainstream society.

The plot of this story is family, particularly mothers and daughters. What is a mother? What makes a good mother? Who gets to be a mother? Celeste Ng does not only look at the various mothers in the story and how they are similar and different from each other, but also illustrates the needs of all of the daughters involved and how their mothers either attempt, or fail to meet those needs.

The narrative moves as necessary; meaning that the story moves from the present to the past, back to the present, to the future and back to the present. This type of narrative is used as necessary in order to answer any questions the readers will have about the characters and future events. Of course, the characters’ pasts are not revealed to each other unless that individual decides to do so. Keep in mind there is a difference between knowing the truth and assuming you know the truth.

The characters are rounded and relatable. The children are the focus of the novel, while the parents are the driving force. The Richardson Family has the presentation of the “All American Family,” but, obviously, with the baggage that comes with it. The father is always working, the mother is more concerned with appearances than with what is happening in front of her, and their children—like all adolescents—are trying to determine their identities while coming to terms with how different and alike they are from and to each other. Mia and her daughter, Pearl, appear to be the stereotypical vagabonds, but they portray what a family represents, a strong bond and understanding for each other. As for the two mothers involved in the custody battle, both of them love the child, clearly; but are at odds because of society’s notions of what constitutes a “family” and a “parent.”

Elena Richardson sees herself as a proud matriarch and hometown girl. She is set in her ways of thinking and believes that is why she has the life she lives, because she conformed to society’s expectations. However, her notions are not without consequence because she believes that individuals who are not like her—in terms of decorum—are not worthy of what they have. Elena’s way of life clashes with Mia and Izzy, her tenant and daughter, respectively. And, while she tries to justify her actions to herself, the consequences do not leave readers with any reason to pity her.

Mia Warren is an artist is every sense of the word. She decides to settle in Shaker Heights in order to give her daughter, Pearl, some sense of stability. Her influence on the Richardson Family and on Shaker Heights allows for an open discussion about family dynamics and family values. However, Elena’s “disgust” with Mia’s lifestyle reveals how and why suburban life is not everyone’s preference.

The style of storytelling Celeste Ng uses makes readers understand all of her characters within the novel. That being said, it allows readers to be aware of each character’s motivations while allowing readers to sympathize, to emphasize, or to dislike those same characters. Similar to people in the real world, individuals have his or her reasons for presenting themselves and carrying out their actions. The past explains the predicament of each person, but it does not mean what he or she did is the right thing to do. Every action has a consequence, and every person has to live with the aftermath of it. Celeste Ng gives her readers clues and instances in which, her characters have to live with themselves in the long run due to their actions and their choices. This style leads to readers with feelings of empathy, sympathy, and indifference.

The appeal of this novel has been captivating. With almost 240,000 ratings on Goodreads, it comes as no surprise that I had to wait over a year to burrow this book from a library (the eBook price wasn’t low enough, and I’m limiting the amount of print books I buy per month). Celeste Ng reminds her audience that while parents have good intentions for their children’s futures, their wants outweighs what the child, or children, want or need. This causes a rift amongst the family that have long term consequences instead of positive outcomes.

There is a potential media adaptation in the near future for this novel. As of the publishing of this article, Hulu is planning on a limited series based on this novel. It is supposed to star both Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington (possibly as the two “main” mothers). As with many media adaptations, there will be some changes and/or additions to the story, probably. In this case, it could help expand both the narrative and the characters. I am curious to see whether or not Celeste Ng will allow such additions to be incorporated into the adaptation of her book.

I enjoyed this novel because it speaks volumes about the hidden reality of growing up in a suburban neighborhood. As someone who grew up in a suburb similar to Shaker Heights—and during the late 1990s—the depiction of how the adults and the children interact with one another and each other are accurate. The emotional rollercoaster Celeste Ng pulls you on recalls both personal and publicized events that occurred around that time. Obviously, teenaged angst and Elian Gonzalez come to mind.

I do not say this often, but every once in a while, I read a book—regardless of its genre—and, I find myself saying, “This is one of my new favorite books.” Little Fires Everywhereis now in my current “Top Ten Favorite Books of All Time.” Family dynamics was and continues to be an issue throughout the world. Is family stability determined by having two parents? Who or what determines the “support system” children need while growing up? Are wants and needs the same thing when it comes to raising children? Being a single parent is difficult, but that does not mean that the parent is not worthy of being one. Mia and Izzy are reasonable examples of what could happen when the wants (“stability”) are met, but the needs (“support system”) are not. Both Mia and Izzy are two of the most relatable characters I have read in a very long time.

 

My final rating: MUST Read It Now!