01 May Who Fears Death Summary
Who Fears Death is a novel by Nnedi Okoroafor. Here is a summary of the story.
Who Fears Death
Who Fears Death is a novel by Nigerian-American science fantasy novelist, Nnedi Okoroafor. The novel was published in 2010 and won the 2011 World Fantasy Award.
Who Fears Death is a post-apocalyptic novel that reflects on the life of Sudan, where the light-skinned Nuru, who holds onto the power, enslaved and oppressed the dark-skinned Okeke, resulting in a bloody war that lasted for years.
The novel tells the story of Onyesonwu, shortened to Onye, who is birthed after a light-skinned Nuru man raped an Okeke woman. Onye grows up to learn her deplorable story and as well discovers her father is a great sorcerer. The novel tracks her life as she heads to defeat her father and rewrite the Great Book.
The novel has three parts, and it’s Onyesonwu’s narrative to a journalist.
The first part of the novel begins at the funeral of the man who has adopted Onyesonwu. Onye fearlessly places her hand on the lifeless body of her adoptive and accidentally brings him back to life temporarily, to everyone’s surprise. However, she’s stopped by a man named Aro from tampering with the remains of her adoptive father.
Okoroafor takes readers to the past life of Onye, who’s also the protagonist of the story. Onye was raised in the desert. She lived with her mother until she was six before relocating to Jawhir town, quite far from the Seven Rivers Kingdom, where she experienced no racial discrimination or prejudice.
Onye faces ostracization for being an Ewu, a name for someone of both Nuru and Okeke. Her condition seems worse when she had to confront the same fate in Jawhir, a new town she moves to with her mother, thinking it would be welcoming. Fortunately, she finds a blacksmith, Fadil, in the town, who is fond of her and who later marries her mother, Najeeba.
At age 11, the people surrounding her haven’t changed a bit. They still think of her as an Ewu who’s unfit for any side of the two societies. As a result, she does the Eleventh Rite, or Circumcision Rite, which will connect her to her afar-living biological father, who begins to follow and oppress her. This, however, doesn’t stop her from enjoying the company of her friends, Luyu, Binta, and Diti.
Within this time, she begins to experience strange things: she becomes invisible momentarily during the ceremony and learns she can transform into an animal, too. Thereafter, a girl named Mwita, who also has some mystical powers and is trained by Aro— the sorcerer who refused to train her because she’s a girl— is registered at her school. They become friends discovering they both have mystical powers. Mwita, having gained a lot of knowledge from his lessons with Aro, helps Onye advance her craft of sorcery. After Aro watches Onye bring her father back to life at his funeral, he decides to teach her but warns her to learn how to use her power appropriately.
In the second part of the story, Onye returns from school after the death of her father and stays with Mwita for a while learning the powers of shifting, resurrecting creatures, traveling to the wilderness, and growing her clitoris.
Her lesson with Mwita expires after she uses her power to relive a market woman who makes fun of her mother’s rape.
She leaves for Okeke to achieve her dream of rewriting the Great Book and ending the enmity between the two tribes. She left Jwahir with her friends: Binta, Luyu, Mwita, Diti, and her fiancé, Fanci.
On their way to Okeke, they inquire about the Nuru man who has been prophesied to rewrite the Great Book — the Great Book justifies the oppression against Okeke—by a foreteller. Fortunately, it was she, who had been prophesied to rewrite the Great Book, but the foreteller is fearful of saying, “It’s an Okeke person who will rewrite the Great Book”; as a result, switched the gender and tribe of the person.
In part three of Who Fears Death, the relationship among the group becomes tense as Diti’s fiance, Fanasi, begins to bond with Luyu, after Onye regrows Luyu’s clitoris, ignoring the fact he’s engaged with Diti.
When they arrive at the Supply Town, the inhabitants began to stone Onye and Mwita for being Ewu, and Binta loses her life along the line. Out of anger, Onye uses her power to blind their eyes.
Thereafter, they stumbled upon the Vah tribe, who travels in the sandstorm. The Vah accommodates them for three weeks, and they plan for a longer stay. Onye communicates with the goddess, Ani, and meets a dragon-like creature, Kponyungo, who flies her to the East. Onye travels to the West spiritually to attack Diab, but unluckily to her, Diab counters her and poisons her with his mystical power.
Diti and her fiancé resolve to return to Jawhir after the Val sorcerers heal Onye, while others continue the journey. When Mwita, Onye, and Luyu arrive in Okeke, it is in ruins, with its inhabitants in great hanker for medical care. Onye heals the sick among the Okeke people and sets off with the rest of her friends to Durfa, where they reattack Diab, this time physically. Onye moves her egg toward Mwita’s spiritually, making it explode and resulting in the death of Diab. The incident also caused the death of Mwita, Onyesoonwu’s boyfriend.
Onye later learns the explosion has led to the death of fertile men around, while it does impregnate the fertile women in the town.
Onye and Lulu run away from the town to an island where Onye discovers the Greek Book, which she writes with the magical Nsibidi. The Nuru men who survived the blast track them to the island, killed Lulu, and imprison Onye.
In the end, Onye is stoned by the aggrieved men of Nuru, but before this time, Onye is done rewriting the Great Book, and its effect has begun to manifest as there’s nothing to justify the enslavement of the Okeke by the Nuru. Another version of her end says she eludes her prisoners mystically as a flying beast and heads east to meet her boyfriend, Mwita. While the Ewu, Okeke, and Nuru live together in harmony.
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