Who Fears Death

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Who Fears Death
Author Nnedi Okorafor
Language English
Genre Science Fiction, Fantasy
Publisher DAW/Penguin
Publication date
Media type Book
Pages 304
ISBN 9780756406691

Who Fears Death is a novel with science fiction and fantasy elements by American writer Nnedi Okorafor, published in 2010 by DAW, an imprint of Penguin Books. It was awarded the 2011 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel,[1] as well as the 2010 Carl Brandon Kindred Award "for an outstanding work of speculative fiction dealing with race and ethnicity."[2] Okorafor wrote a prequel, the novel The Book of Phoenix, published by DAW in 2015.


The novel takes place in a fictionalized post-apocalyptic future version of Sudan, where the light-skinned Nuru oppress the dark-skinned Okeke. The protagonist, Onyesonwu (Igbo for "who fears death"), is an Ewu, i.e. the child of an Okeke woman raped by a Nuru man. On reaching maturity, she goes on a quest to defeat her sorcerous father Daib using her magical powers.


  • Onyesonwu—The protagonist, the daughter of an Okeke woman raped by a Nuru man.
  • Mwita—Onyesonwu's lover.
  • Daib—Onyesonwu's rapist father, a powerful sorcerer.
  • Najeeba—Onyesonwu's mother.
  • Aro—Onyesonwu's mentor.
  • Luyu—Onyesonwu's close friend

Themes, influences, and controversies[edit]

The novel was inspired in part by Emily Wax's 2004 Washington Post article "We Want to Make a Light Baby," which discussed the use of weaponized rape by Arab militiamen against Black African women in the Darfur conflict. According to Wax: "The victims and others said the rapes seemed to be a systematic campaign to humiliate the women, their husbands and fathers, and to weaken tribal ethnic lines." [3] Okorafor wrote that this article "created the passageway through which Onyesonwu slipped through my world."[4]

The novel contains several references to Amos Tutuola's novel The Palm-Wine Drinkard.[5]

The novel includes a graphic scene in which Onyesonwu is subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM), which significantly impairs her ability to use her magical powers. FGM is frequently practiced by Igbo people although its prevalence is decreasing.[6] Some readers criticized Okorafor because they felt that the FGM scene depicted traditional African culture in a negative light.[7][8] In a blog post, Okorafor commented that she is proud of her Igbo identity, but that "culture is alive and it is fluid. It is not made of stone nor is it absolute. Some traditions/practices will be discarded and some will be added, but the culture still remains what it is. It is like a shape-shifting octopus that can lose a tentacle but still remain a shape-shifting octopus (yes, that image is meant to be complicated). Just because I believe that aspects of my culture are problematic does not mean I am “betraying” my people by pointing out those problems." She added: "What it [i.e., female genital cutting] all boils down to (and I believe the creators of this practice KNEW this even a thousand years ago) is the removal of a woman’s ability to properly enjoy the act of sex. Again, this is about the control and suppression of women." [8]


Besides winning the 2011 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel and the 2010 Carl Brandon Kindred Award, Who Fears Death was nominated for the 2010 Nebula Award for Best Novel and the 2011 Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel.


  1. ^ "2011 World Fantasy Award Winners & Nominees". World Fantasy Board. Retrieved 2013-04-27. 
  2. ^ "2010 Carl Brandon Award Winners". Locus Online. 2012-08-08. Retrieved 2013-04-29. 
  3. ^ Wax, "We Want to Make a Light Baby," Washington Post, June 30, 2004, p. A01.
  4. ^ Okorafor, Who Fears Death, paperback edition, 2010, p. 387.
  5. ^ Okorafor, Who Fears Death, pp. 316, 385
  6. ^ Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Nigeria: Female Genital Mutilation and its practice among the Igbo, 8 May 2000, NGA34443.E, available at: [1] [accessed 26 April 2013].
  7. ^ Steven Barnes, "Beyond Mere Genre," American Book Review 32:2 (Jan/Feb 2011), p. 8.
  8. ^ a b Okorafor, "The Witch Strikes Back".