ZARAH THE WINDSEEKER, BY NNEDI OKORAFOR
This book was highly recommended, by two amazing ladies who I’m lucky enough to call friends. They did say, though, that it was a bit different from what I’m used to reading, and that I would have to cut it some slack at the beginning.
Synopsis: Zahrah, a dada girl (born with vines entangled in her hair) discovers she has the ability to fly. Her best friend is bitten by an exotic snake, and she embarks in a magical and perilous journey to find a cure for him.
Overall enjoyment: Just as they warned me, I didn’t really like it at first. The language and style of writing felt clipped and disjointed. It didn’t really flow. However, in the rules of the challenge I said I would read all the books to the end, so I persevered. I’m really glad I did! After a while, I was so into the story I didn’t even notice it anymore. And it was quite a nice story.
Plot: It’s the classic mythical quest plot. I LOVE those. Especially when they have sci-fi/fantasy elements.
Characters: Very colorful and lively. The ones Zahrah encounters when she’s in the jungle have a fable-like quality that make them look like symbols.
World/setting: This was the best part. It’s a somewhat futuristic alien place, where Earth is a myth long forgotten and computers are actually plants carefully grown and lovingly tended. At the same time, you have magic all around, and all the people have a pathological fear of the unknown. The jungle is something right out of an African folklore tale.
Writing style: It’s a bit weird. It’s very oral (I’m not sure if that’s the appropriate term in English, I’m translating literally from my Brazilian literature classes), like she’s telling you the story in person. At first I had a bit of trouble with that, but after I got used to that, it stopped bothering me. Besides, the book is done in the style of African legends, passed from person to person orally, so this writing style plays right into that. (I still thought it was annoying when I started reading. You have to persevere.)
Representation: Everyone is black. There isn’t much about different sexualities, though. But then, most of the book is just Zahrah, by herself, or meeting up with the jungle animals, so I can see how it would be difficult to include that representation.
Political correctness: It’s an amazingly feminine story, and also (to my eyes, at least) very black. I love how she doesn’t even mention white people in the book. She doesn’t explain why there are only black people around, or what happened to white people, or even mention that one time there used to be people with lighter skin, or something. Everyone’s black, and that’s a given. It’s really refreshing, after years of reading about one black person in an ocean of white people, or endless explanations as to why most of the people in the book are black. Almost all of the important characters in the book are women; even the most important animals she finds in the jungle are female. The only truly important male character is her friend, who gets conveniently refrigeratored right in the beginning. And it’s a beautiful message about a girl getting to know herself and finding her own strength.
One detail I’m very fond of is that Zahrah made sure to carry tampons with her when she set out on her journey. That was amazing! Also, apparently the answer to the meaning of life isn’t 46, it’s 44. The machine was miscalibrated.
Up next: The Storied Life of A.J. Firky, by Gabrielle Zevin