Review: Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
Published by Tor.com on September 22nd 2015
Genres: Science Fiction
Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.
Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti's stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.
If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself - but first she has to make it there, alive.
Binti is the story of a young Himba woman whose life and clan revolve around math and engineering. Her people never leave their home, so the news of her acceptance into Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy, is bittersweet. Binti loves learning, and the opportunity to participate in a program with such a fabulous reputation is of course very exciting. However, that means leaving her home, her family, her friends, everything she has known. It also means that her people will not necessarily see her the same way, as they don’t believe their people should leave. I really liked this element of the story. Binti is trying to do something she loves, learn as much as she can, but cultural tradition and expectations force her to feel like she is not just journeying to a far away school, but abandoning protocol in a way that will alienate her from everything she has ever known forever. That is a very hard choice to make!
Binti herself, as a character? What can I say? She is a woman who loves math. As a person who took 400 level math classes for fun in college, this immediately endeared her to me. I loved Binti immediately and really wanted to her grow beyond what she was expected to become within her culture. I wanted her to explore and experience things first hand in a way her people never have. I wanted to see her push the boundaries and find her own limitations rather than settle those that were defined for her.
This is a short story, so I don’t want to reveal too much more. But I will say, Binti’s troubles don’t stop once she makes her decision to leave or stay. And where she comes from continues to play a part of who she is, but it does not define what she can or can not do. I have to love her even more for that. This philosophy is also reflected onto other people and cultures as well. It is very much a book about accepting everyone and enjoying each others strengths. Encouragement is more beneficial than judgement. And when there is an ongoing war going on, this perspective can be help provide insight and compassion.
I really hope that Okorafor continues Binti’s story, because I truly do not feel done. I want more.