Who Fears Death

Who Fears Death

Book - 2010
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Now optioned as a TV series for HBO, with executive producer George R. R. Martin!

An award-winning literary author enters the world of magical realism with her World Fantasy Award-winning novel of a remarkable woman in post-apocalyptic Africa.

In a post-apocalyptic Africa, the world has changed in many ways; yet in one region genocide between tribes still bloodies the land. A woman who has survived the annihilation of her village and a terrible rape by an enemy general wanders into the desert, hoping to die. Instead, she gives birth to an angry baby girl with hair and skin the color of sand. Gripped by the certainty that her daughter is different-- special --she names her Onyesonwu, which means "Who fears death?" in an ancient language.

It doesn't take long for Onye to understand that she is physically and socially marked by the circumstances of her conception. She is Ewu --a child of rape who is expected to live a life of violence, a half-breed rejected by her community. But Onye is not the average Ewu . Even as a child, she manifests the beginnings of a remarkable and unique magic. As she grows, so do her abilities, and during an inadvertent visit to the spirit realm, she learns something terrifying: someone powerful is trying to kill her.

Desperate to elude her would-be murderer and to understand her own nature, she embarks on a journey in which she grapples with nature, tradition, history, true love, and the spiritual mysteries of her culture, and ultimately learns why she was given the name she bears: Who Fears Death.
Publisher: New York : DAW Books, c2010.
ISBN: 9780756406172
Branch Call Number: FANTASY OKORAFOR
Characteristics: 386 pages ; 24 cm.


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From Library Staff

Nnedi Okorafor is the 2018 Ross and Marianna Beach Author. Okorafor earned the 2016 Nebula and Hugo Award winner.

For those who appreciate the harsh realities of fantasy: this book doesn't shy away from the evils we inflict on each other. Born to a mother raped during the slaughter of her tribe, Onyesonwu comes to understand that her destiny is to end the genocide of her people. This book has been picked up ... Read More »

In a post-apocalyptic future version of Sudan, light-skinned Nuru oppress dark-skinned Okeke. The child of a Okeke woman raped by a Nuru man must use her magical powers to defeat her powerful father.

From the critics

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ArapahoeTina Aug 01, 2019

I loved the flow of past and future, ancient and modern in this novel. The world felt real and tangible with the magic an integral part of the everyday. I really hope this makes it to the screen in its HBO adaptation. George R.R. Martin is set as executive producer and he has some ground to make up!!

IndyPL_SteveB Dec 10, 2018

This award-winning fantasy novel takes place in Africa after some apocalyptic event that destroyed much of the technological world. A girl is born after her mother was raped by the leader of an invading army. The mother names her Onyesonwu – “Who Fears Death?” The mother and daughter survive in the desert for many years and Onyesonwu or “Onye” discovers she has wizard powers and the ability to change into animals. She also discovers she can track what her biological father is doing. She vows to use her abilities to kill him.

The fantasy in this novel is dark, indeed, with rape and murder being common and with graphic descriptions of female circumcision. But there is also great beauty as Onye learns to fly as a vulture, to learn to control her abilities and emotions, and to fall in love. As she and her friends journey toward the inevitable confrontation with her father, they meet a fascinating tribe who live in the eye of a sandstorm for protection. Onye also grows to understand that nothing is to be gained by merely killing her father. She must find a way to begin changing the nature of the society she lives in.

Okorafor tells her story from a much different background than almost anything else you will read, although it might remind you a bit of Octavia Butler. There are very few fantasies which use African traditions and mythologies. Okorafor is a professor at Chicago State and is the daughter of Nigerian immigrants.

Ms Okorafor is an African American author, the daughter of two Nigerian immigrants. I can’t remember how this book came on my radar but I’m glad it did. It’s catalogued as Science Fiction but the first half really doesn’t seem to fit that category–later on ‘magical’ things are at work but it dovetails so well into the story it doesn’t ‘read’ as Sci Fi.

It was a hard read in that it dealt with topics of racism, genocide, genital mutilation, the use of rape as a weapon of war, the societal views of children that are a result of these rapes – and the fact that these children are a result of two races mixing . Climate change is a small part of the story (there are more deserts in this future earth) and the problems technology has brought society is also discussed.

The book presents us with a heroine, Onyesonwu (which means Who Fears Death), who has struggles to overcome as a child of a rape victim. A ‘Quest’ must be completed–a chance to right wrongs and vengeance taken.

Onyesonwu is a strong, emotional, conflicted character but you root for her every step of the way. (Submitted by RZ).

TSCPL_Miranda Nov 04, 2018

Wow, this was a hard one. I almost quit after the first couple of chapters. Then I almost quit again about halfway through. TW for rape, genocide, and female circumcision...which tells you in a nutshell why I found it so hard to read. That said, it's a powerful, memorable book, a woman on a quest, driven by destiny to be the salvation of her people. You'll find magic, deep lore, and a strong, admirable female lead. The setting is a near-future earth, in Africa, that has lost touch with much of its technology, and the tone is both bleak and hopeful.
I almost brought this one down a star because of how ill it made me feel in parts, and then decided I can't penalize an author for being good at what she does. If you've read Okorafor's young adult fiction and loved it, be warned that you need a stronger stomach to tackle this one.

Oct 18, 2018

What a great book! I am always looking for a science fiction author or book that is different, original, fast-paced, exciting, emotional, intriguing characters...I found it all in this book.

Jun 06, 2018

I LOVED THIS BOOK. It is amazing, and told extremely well.
The harshness and the pain makes the ending only more bittersweet, and it opened my eyes to the conditions other people experience in the world. Onyesonwu is a powerfully complex character, and her journey is an inspiring one.
I read this book in little over a day, and I've started the prequel, The Book of Phoenix (so good!), and Nnedi Okorafor is doing an amazing job

Apr 05, 2018

I love this book. The heroine just does not buy into racism or sexism. She doesn't much like the Great Book either. I can so relate!

SPPL_Kristen Mar 13, 2018

A breathtaking novel. Nnedi Okorafor is one of the best authors writing today. Please be mindful of the content warnings: the book deals with a lot of difficult and graphic subjects. This is one of my new favorites, and I highly recommend it to all sci-fi lovers.

SCL_Tricia Jan 04, 2018

Soon to be made into a tv series with George RR Martin as the executive producer. An interesting book with a strong female lead. I think it will translate to tv very well.

Dec 03, 2017

Given how white and male the sci-fi world is (less so in fantasy), it's refreshing to come across a book written from a different perspective. Nnedi Okorafor is a Nigerian American writer and "Who Fears Death" is set in a post-apocalyptic Africa. Okorafor uses the genre to deal with more serious issues like racism, violence, rape, and women's rights. I don't think you have to be a fan of sci-fi to enjoy this.

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Add a Quote
ArapahoeTina Feb 07, 2020

“We'll never know exactly why we are, what we are, and so on. All you can do is follow your path all the way to the wilderness, and then you continue along because that's what must be.”

ArapahoeTina Feb 07, 2020

“We all are born with burdens. Some of us more than others.”

Sep 15, 2016

Humiliation and confusion were the staples of my childhood. Is it a wonder that anger was never far behind?

Sep 15, 2016

Humiliation and confusion were the staples of my childhood. Is it a wonder that anger was never far behind?


Add Notices
Sep 15, 2016

Sexual Content: Graphic depictions of rape

Sep 15, 2016

Violence: Including sexual violence, genocide, and stoning. Depictions of female genital cutting.


Add a Summary
Sep 15, 2016

Onyesonwu is Ewu, a child born of the violence that the Nuru have long visited upon the Okeke people they have enslaved in post-apocalyptic Sudan. Nuru and Okeke alike regard her as an abomination, but she is protected by her determined mother, and her highly respected adoptive father. Her magical talents begin to manifest early, setting her even further apart from her Okeke peers in the village of Jwahir. But things begin to change when she meets Mwita, an Ewu boy with connections to the village sorcerer, Aro, who has never agreed to take a woman as his student. Her untrained power ties her to a larger destiny, one will impact the future of Nuru and Okeke alike.

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