Who Fears Death?, by Nnedi Okorafor. Published June 1, 2010. DAW. Hardcover. 304 pg.
My life fell apart when I was sixteen. Papa died.
Thus begins Who Fears Death? an ingenious novel which ventures into a post apocalyptic Africa through the maturation and daring journey of a young sorceress named Onyesonwu. Her name means who fears death. Onyesonwu is an Ewu. Most look upon her with disgust and avoid her as much as possible. She’s an outcast. Her Okeke mother got brutally raped by a Nuru man. She named her Onyesonwu because she knew that her daughter would change the world one day and how could anything get worse than what she’d already been through. . Author Nnedi Okorafor stresses that Ewu are “children of violence.” Onyesonwu and her mother settle in Jwahir where her mother eventually marries the revered local blacksmith. He’s a magnanimous gentleman who sees beyond the surface to individuality and inner beauty. Who Fears Death? provides a genuine reflection on race and gender.
Both her strong-willed mother and generous, open-minded father allow Onyesonwu to express herself and make her own decisions. As an Ewu, Onyesonwu doesn’t make friends that easily at school until she makes a major decision against her mother’s wishes. She participates in an 11th Rite celebration. Author Okorafor provides a plethora of details about genital mutilation, its aftermath for young girls and why certain people continue the barbaric practice. The only positive for Onyesonwu is that she and the other girls going through the rite are forever bonded and Onyesonwu has lifelong friends afterward. She also meets an Ewu boy and falls in love. After her father dies, Onyesonwu finds out that she has special powers which she could perhaps utilize to bring about peace and change to various parts of Africa. She shape shifts into different animals. She has amazing ability in her touch. She must fight to be trained properly because no one wants to train a woman. Through careful training, she learns to harness her skills and use them to protect the Okeke people and Onyesonwu is a sorcerer. Who Fears Death? blends magic with the intensity of the human spirit.