Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
Oh. My. Gosh.
This book is life-changing. The horribleness of genocide from the victim’s point of view… is combined with amazing characters, strong, beautiful characters. The story is so foreign, so very, very African in layers of beliefs and customs and assumptions. To read this book is to be transported to Africa in the form of the Kponyungo seeing and hearing everything to such a sharp degree, it has to change the life of the one who will let it.
In the heart of the book I found this priceless treasure on pg 220-221, just before ch 34 begins…
“ ‘How are you?’ Mwita asked, pulling me close.
His words were like a key. All the emotion I’d held down suddenly felt ready to burst throught my chest. I buried my head in his chest and wept. Minutes passed and my sorrow became fury. I felt a rush in my chest. I wanted so badly to kill my father. It would have been like killing a thousand of those men who attacked me. I would avenge my mother, I would avenge myself.
‘Breathe,” Mwita whispered.
I opened my mouth and inhaled his breath. He kissed me again and quietly, carefully, softly, he spoke the words that few women ever hear from a man. ‘Ifunanya.’
They’re ancient words. They don’t exist among any other group of people. There is no direct translation in Nuru, English, Sipo, or Vah. This word only has meaning when spoken by a man to the one he loves. A woman can’t use the word unless she is barren. It is no juju. Not in the way that I know it. But the word has strength. It’s wholly binding if it is true and the emotion reciprocated. This is not like the world ‘love’. A man can tell a woman he loves her every day. Ifunanya is spoken only once in a man’s life. Ifu means to ‘look into,’ ‘n’ means ‘the,’ and anya means ‘eyes’. The eyes are the window to the soul.
I could have died when he spoke this word because I’d never every thought any mand would speak it to me, not even Mwinta. All the filth those men had heaped on me with their filthy actions and filthy words and filthy ideas, none of it mattered now. Mwita, Mwita, Mwita, again, Fate, I think you.”
I will love this book forever, but I recommend it carefully. The genocide is incredibly horrible and scarring. The magic is African and completely different than anything else I’ve read so that it’s difficult to have an opinion regarding the content apart from the book. Inside the book, it is… as dramatic and furious as Onyesonwu.
The back cover of this library copy is covered with quotes. My favorite is from Peter Straub. He says, “I love the way Nnedi Okorafor writes, the precise, steely short sentences like blows to the body, the accumulation of experiences that lead to inspired insights, and the strangeness and beauty of an Africa both imagined and real. Perception, courage and grace illuminate WHO FEARS DEATH.”