I've been eager to read this novella since I first heard about it. There was something about the cover, the title, and the suggested culture of the story that appealed to me. I hadn't read anything by Okorofor, or even heard of her, before I heard about this book, but everything else set my expectations pretty high.
The story is about a woman of the Himba people, who is the first of her people to be accepted to Oozma University, a planet-wide learning institution. Her people are of the Earth, almost literally; they live near a salt-water lake, and their fresh water supply is scarce enough that they bathe using a mixture of clay and plant oils, so their hair and skin is always coated with it. It would be easy to call her people "tribal", but as Okorafor says in her narrative, "that's what they called humans from ethnic groups too remote and 'uncivilized'".
Okorafor is of Nigerian descent, and her main character is dark-skinned, with thick dreadlocks, so it's easy to assume that the novella is about race and African culture, and in a way, it is. While Okorafor uses both as thematic elements of her story, the story itself is about how people grow from being enemies to friends. So much of modern race relations is about taking that same step, but it doesn't feel like the story is beating you over the head with its message. In the end, the story is about empathy, honor, and honesty, and how those things bring people together.
I also liked Okorafor's style. It's very understated, to the point of it almost being simple, but at the same time, she's conveying the story and emotion easily and effectively. It reminded me a little of George R.R. Martin's style, though they both have their own distinctive voices. I'm also reading a book written by a poet, and the lofty, lengthy language of that story, and my slow progress through it, makes me wish for the same story told in a simpler style.
Of all the novellas that Tor has released over the last couple of months, this was the one I was most excited to read. Witches of Lychford was just okay, and I couldn't make it more than 30 pages through The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, but Binti met and exceeded my expectations. I was impressed with the story and my response to it to want to read more of her fiction.