Binti: The Night Masquerade

The concluding part of Nnedi Okorafor’s trilogy of novellas is a powerful and often moving tale, packed with well-drawn and believable characters that bring this world to life.

Binti has returned to her home planet, believing that the violence of the Meduse has been left behind. Unfortunately, although her people are peaceful on the whole, the same cannot be said for the Khoush, who fan the flames of their ancient rivalry with the Meduse.

Far from her village when the conflicts start, Binti hurries home, but anger and resentment has already claimed the lives of many close to her.

Once again it is up to Binti, and her intriguing new friend Mwinyi, to intervene — though the elders of her people do not entirely trust her motives — and try to prevent a war that could wipe out her people, once and for all.

It’s very difficult to talk about this novella without posting spoilers for the two preceding installments. Everything builds on what has gone before, locking together to make for a whole that is far greater than its parts. This is a book that knows where it’s going, even if the author doesn’t much care how she gets there.

As a result, this is a story that leaves much unexplained and unexplored. To fully appreciate it, therefore, you need to recognise that author, Nnedi Okorafor, is more interested in using metaphors to discuss concepts than she is in ensuring that every narrative tab fits perfectly in it’s slot.

This makes for a story that is thoughtful and left me mulling over it for days afterwards and a universe to which I would be very happy to return.

Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor

In Binti, Nnedi Okorafor created a fascinating universe that drew on an often different set of inspirations to those usually found in space opera to give us something that felt both fresh and original. In Binti: Home, Okorafor expands on this — both in terms of the society and environment of Oomza University and also the cultural environment from which Binti comes.

The emphasis in this novella, as in the previous one, is very much on the character of Binti and her struggle to develop in the face both of conflicting expectations.

After having left her insular community to become the first member of the Himba to enrol at Oomza University, Binti now returns home. But home is not quite home any more. Binti has seen and done too much and grown in directions that make it impossible to fully fit in with the community in which she grew up.

The Australians have a term, Tall poppy syndrome which describes resentment towards people who are visibly successful in comparison to their peers. It’s a phrase I have seen used within various expatriate communities, specifically in the context of returning home, and it’s a phrase that came to mind several times as Okorafor describes the resentment of family members and the refusal of friends to accept, or even understand, the person Binti has become.

Of course, intolerance works in many directions and, while Binti has to deal with the reactions of those she left behind, she also shares their prejudices against the Desert People who are generally seen as primitive and unstable. It is Binti’s necessary reassessment of her prejudices that form the culmination of this novel, and which sets things up for the third novella in this series.

Binti: Home is an engrossing continuation of the first novella that challenges you to think about the way in which prejudices are unthinkingly adopted. It also ends on the sort of cliff hanger that left me wanting to dive straight into the next novella, Binti: The Night Masquerade.

While this novella suffers a bit from being the middle book of a trilogy, it is a satisfying read that works well in the context of what we understand of Binti’s world. I will definitely be reading the third, and final, book in this series and am looking forward to discovering how Nnedi Okorafor brings Binti’s journey to a conclusion.

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

At less than 100 pages, Binti is a very quick read but there is so much packed into this novella that I’m tempted to go back and read it again.

Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.

If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself — but first she has to make it there, alive.

On the face of it, this sounds like a fairly unexceptional space opera. However, by drawing on her Nigerian roots, Nnedi Okorafor manages to look at questions of culture and cultural identity is a way that is (to me) utterly original.

Binti herself is a great character, believably navigating conflicting aspirations and expectations while never losing sight of who she is or where she comes from. This, combined with some wonderfully evocative world building, makes for a thoughtful take on the way in which family and culture can both ground us and limit us.