Who Fears Death? Not Nnedi Okorafor’s heroine!

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Nnedi Okorafor has stolen an irreducible march in the Best Title Ever contest. Who can beat “Who Fears Death” as a title? But more than that, much more, is that Okorafor has shown the way to write fantasy/dystopia that is more than ever a reminder that Truth is way, way stranger than Fiction. If the dystopic Africa of Who Fears Death seems to anyone to be just an imagined, overheated, disjointed, violent and unbalanced society (haha count those modifiers), try reading Emily Wax’s Washington Post article about Sudan and the weaponization of rape. From 2004 on, when we were sitting in our homes and decrying world apathy toward the Sudanese genocide, thousands and thousands of women suffered fates in Sudan equal to if not worse than EVERY scenario of rape and torture that Okorafor evokes in Who Fears Death — I would say creates but then, again, truth is stranger than fiction — in her unforgettable novel Who Fears Death. Onyesonwu, the eponymous protagonist, doesn’t fear death because who fears death after what life shows to be possible in the everyday?

Okorafor was impelled to write this novel after she read that article, but here’s not a case of art imitating life either. The overall effect of the writing transcends its supposed origin story because Okorafor foregrounds the realization that the fictional recounting of horrific gender violence on the scale of atrocities that are globally common enough to seem banal is terrifying at least to a large extent because representation demonstrates the impossibility of itself. Language fails before the scale of the violence and the atrocity so that the witness must shapeshift in order to make sense of a reality that is truly protean in its torments and terrors. The novel was long and at times too richly worked to not become confusing, but that was my failure as a reader. I expected linearity and accessibility in a world that is a minefield of mortal danger for women.

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The Bad News

The Very Bad News….

That the land of my birth is now a killing field where death’s ambassadors clad in colors of light scavenge every night for the remains of democracy, law and order, truth and justice,

because of the BJP, the Modi dictatorship, the RSS, and Hindutva zombies.

That all over this beautiful suffering world, the miasma of evil is spreading in the form of leadership that seems to be from an empire of evil. That Palpatine in The Rise of Skywalker has NOTHING, absolutely nothing, on what Modi, Trump and his ilk are doing to our beautiful world and its people.

That India has a new law that “amends” citizenship unconstitutionally to exclude, target and eliminate Muslims. That America builds a wall against the hands and muscles that have built it, always, without exception, for five hundred years now.

No, it wasn’t the Pilgrim Fathers, guess again.

That women are burned and impaled in India for presuming the right to exist.

This is all very bad news.

I end with an anonymous poet’s marvelous song against injustice that you should hear even if you don’t understand Hindi/Urdu. Friends, give him your ears….

Are we there yet?

When my father died a month ago it changed my world. Again. The last time had been when my mother passed away, six years ago. So, among other things, it returned me to renewed, perhaps frantic searching for the meaning of existence as well as the meaning of annihilation.

I conclude that the meaning of either existence or annihilation lies in the collective life and survival of all that is around us. Even so called inert matter. I conclude that our existence matters because in the end we are part of a non-dualistic cosmos: the whole is nothing but the parts; the parts are in themselves the whole. Matter is vibrant; matter is radiant. Like us, as long as we respect that.

So if we don’t listen to the planet when it asks us to take care of it and save it, what business do we have on it?

You know the answer.

Thanks, Baba, for always teaching me the Gita’s lessons even when I didn’t want to learn. And thanks for being my father for eighty-one glorious years without a dull moment. I love you, always.