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Zahrah the Windseeker, by Nnedi Okorafor

Zahrah the Windseeker [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] is Nnedi Okorafor’s first published novel. I’ve wanted to read Nnedi’s work for several years now, and having finally done so, I’m cranky at myself for taking so long. (Fortunately, I’ve already got another of her books waiting for me on the shelf.)

This is a YA novel which, in some respects, follows a very familiar storyline. Zahrah is different from the other kids. She’s picked on by her peers at school. She’s shy, but destined for greatness. She has a popular friend named Dari who encourages her to be more daring and explore with him. When something happens to Dari, this provides Zahrah with the push she needs to overcome her timidness and set out on her own to try to save him…

Sound like something you’ve read before? Now try this.

Zahrah was born dada, with vines growing within her thick locks, vines that twined themselves to her hair while she was still in the womb. She lives on a planet colonized ages ago and developed with biological technology, a world rooted in African culture and folklore. Zahrah grew her own computer from a seed. Shots are given using insects, and the patient is swabbed with sugar water so the insect will bite and inject the medicine. And oh yes — Zahrah can fly.

I loved it. I loved the animals, the talking gorillas and the trickster frog and even the poor, confused war snake. I loved the details, from the mirror-adorned fashion to the glitchy electronic guidebook to the background history of the library to the underlying theme of rebellion against ignorance. I loved Papa Grip and his pink caftans, and the rhythm beetles who were drawn to the music.

There were times during her quest in the forbidden jungle when it felt like Zahrah was a little too lucky (such as her encounter the whip scorpion), when other animals and characters conveniently arrived to help her. I definitely noticed these points, but they didn’t throw me out of the book. It felt right for this kind of story, which blends the flavors of science fiction and folklore and fairy tale and makes it work.

Random side note: the day after I finished this book, I dreamed about flying. (I also dreamed my car fell into a lake, but I don’t think that had anything to do with the book.)

I’d recommend this one to pretty much anyone.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 18th, 2011 03:42 pm (UTC)
This was the first YA book that drew me in and that I didn't put down part way in. All the innovative worldbuilding, all the wonderful touches you mentioned are why I kept going.

But--and this made me realize why I have so much trouble with a lot of YA--all the "lucky" you cited never let me forget this was a book written for kids. Children want to identify with and be like the heroes in their books. A magical girl who can fly and has adventures would of course, in a child's mind, be lucky. She was the hero. She had to save the day and if she had help, that was okay. It was that kind of story.

Like you, the noticing didn't toss me out of the story, but noticing never let me sink all the way into the book either. One of the drawbacks of being an adult reader who knows things are never that easy. :)
Jun. 18th, 2011 04:40 pm (UTC)
On the other hand, I think it depends on what kind of book/story you're talking about. For one of my books, you definitely can't have the protagonist continue to get lucky, to be saved by outside forces and characters, and so on. But if you look at fairy tales and folk stories, that sort of things becomes much more common. That's part of what I meant when I talked about this book blending the feel of different kinds of stories ... don't know if that makes sense or not.
Jun. 19th, 2011 04:32 am (UTC)
On the other hand, I think it depends on what kind of book/story you're talking about.

In my rush to leave a comment before work, I didn't make myself clear.

I was thinking specifically of stories aimed at children and the way kids, especially younger kids, process stories. They see stories differently than adults. What works for kids would never fly in an adult novel.

That this book holds adult attention and engages adults so well is a testament to Nnedi Okorafor's skill at storytelling. I'm actually looking forward to the day I can read her adult novel. I've just lacked the cash to go buy it. :)
Jun. 20th, 2011 06:03 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that's a huge part of classical faery tales, of many different cultures - I was raised on Russian folktales, rather than the more familiar western breed, and there are SO MANY helpful interventions, particularly by creatures great and small...

Deus ex anima.
Jun. 18th, 2011 06:18 pm (UTC)
Just a side note, it seems to be listed as juvenile literature rather than YA on two out of three of those links (and at my local library). So, if people are looking for a copy offline, they might want to try checking the children's section.

Also, it looks like the sort of book that's right up my alley. :) I'll have to hunt up a copy.
Jun. 18th, 2011 07:37 pm (UTC)
It's very possible I mislabeled it. I admit I don't have the clearest understanding exactly where the boundaries are between YA and juvenile and regular old fiction...
Jun. 18th, 2011 08:05 pm (UTC)
Well, if you mislabeled it, so did Barnes & Noble. Really it's just that YA is a fuzzy category and some books get cross marketed. My impression is that this book fits pretty squarely into the younger end of young adult.
Jun. 18th, 2011 07:21 pm (UTC)
I think it sounds *lovely*.

I've heard others mention it too--I'll have to read it at some point.
Aug. 13th, 2011 09:39 pm (UTC)
Just met Nnedi and picked up a copy of Zahrah - she says hi :)

Thanks for the recc :)
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )


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