A Chicago Catholic newspaper at Christmas may not be the obvious place for a review of a science fiction story set in Africa in a future so distant they have no record of our present day. Yet, the deeper I got into “Who Fears Death,” Chicago-based author Nnedi Okorafor’s novel about a mixed-race child of rape, Onyesonwu, who discovers she is meant to help end the violence in her country, the more I wanted to give it to every Catholic I knew.
A story with tremendous and painful resonances to our own world, “Death” has moments that are difficult to read. But fundamentally it is the story of a strong young woman who will not accept the prejudice and roles that society tries to assign to her.
Okorafor has a tremendous talent for writing young female protagonists. Her “Binti” novellas are equally impossible to put down, and HBO is currently developing “Who Fears Death” into a series. Onye is every bit the fighter that Katniss Everdeen is, or Hermione Granger for that matter, on a journey that proves to be not only enormously liberating but profoundly religious.
Science fiction is not everybody’s cup of tea. But “Who Fears Death” is the best meditation on mercy and redemption (and also race and gender) I’ve read in years.