Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor is a frightening novel, frightening in the way that novels like Animal Farm by George Orwell have lingered in my mind with the latent sense of discomfort and fear. These books have one thing in common: they invariably tell a tragic tale of society and are a fair warning to the present. They are a small testament to how problematic structures can only yield problematic results, whether in the present or future. In the clear political tale Animal Farm, the pigs, after a long fight of liberation, step neatly into the shoes of the very humans they liberated themselves from, ultimately continuing the cycle they broke. Who Fears Death is speculative fiction, or what is often called Afro-futurism, and is equally political in its statement. Here we are faced with a dystopian future where some of the same cycles of destruction we see on the continent today are repeated in the most tragic of ways. In what seems like a backwards future but not impossible reality, a senseless genocidal war is ongoing leaving destruction in its wake.
The main character, Onyesonwu, wields her magical powers to fight a world that bitterly discriminates against her and her kind. Much like other religious figures, she rises forth like a messiah, destined to transform her community and liberate the Okeke people from the tyranny of the Nuru people. Her rise is not without its moments of difficulty, she is challenged by the rigid beliefs of her society, the apathy of her people, and unceasing intolerance even from those closest to her.
The novel is by no means perfect, and there are many times it leaves the reader wanting. But, admirably, it does not shy away from the difficult and uncomfortable topics that lay under the surface of our communities. Rather, it swings straight at the sensitive realties, from the controversial FGM (FGC) to the forms of religious dogma that breed intolerance. The novel may be about magic and the future, but it certainly starts a conversation on issues we should be discussing in present-day Africa.