The novella Binti by Nnedi Okorafor follows the title character as she leaves her family to attend a prestigious university on another planet. Binti’s people (the Himba) use clay to cover their bodies and hair and never leave Earth, until Binti that is. Binti leaves the planet under cover of darkness and begins a journey that explores her identity, her race, and her place in an inter-species conflict between humans and aliens called the Meduse.
I absolutely loved this novella. Though the writing was a little simplistic there were some beautiful moments. There was one moment in particular when a stranger touched Binti’s hair without permission, something every woman of colour has had to suffer through (including myself) and though the scene was loaded with awkwardness I actually laughed. I’m sure no comedy was intended but it was almost liberating to read about these micro-aggressions people suffer on a daily basis that is always left out of what I read.
The motif of Binti’s hair was actually an interesting one throughout the text. I’ve only ever read two books about hair; Rapunzel, and a story about a girl whose hair was too curly to keep her crown on (my mom bought it for me to deter me straightening my hair), so it was refreshing to read a short piece about hair. I realise this might sound a little strange that I’m going on about hair in this review, but it’s a big part of life, especially for women with longer hair and I struggle to see why it doesn’t come up in literature more. Maybe I’m in the wrong genre for hair.
The hair that I have just so highly praised was braided according to a mathematical formula. And so we come to the one part of the book I couldn’t get along with; the maths. Binti was accepted to higher education because of her affinity with mathematics, something she shares with her people, though she is the first to pursue it at a university level. It’s not mentioned much, but the story has plenty of references and one equation (too much for me) which sent me spiralling into horrific maths A-level memories. Of course if you like maths I guess that’s fine too, or whatever.
Despite my mathematical complaints I loved this book so much. My only other complaint is that it wasn’t longer, though that does defeat the point of a novella. Okorafor does an excellent job of world-building in such a small space, but I selfishly wanted it to be longer. Luckily there’s a sequel that I will be reading and reviewing very soon.