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Nnedi Okorafor is a novelist of Nigerian descent known for weaving African culture into creative evocative settings and memorable characters. In a profile of Nnedi's work titled "Weapons of Mass Creation", The New York Times called Nnedi's imagination "stunning". Her novels include Zahrah the Windseeker (winner of the Wole Soyinka Prize for African Literature), The Shadow Speaker (winner of the CBS Parallax Award) and Long Juju Man (winner of the Macmillan Writer's Prize for Africa). Her latest novel, Who Fears Death (DAW Books, 2010), is a dark, gritty magical realist narrative that evenly combines African literature and fantasy/science fiction into a powerful story of genocide and of the woman who reshapes her world. Nnedi holds a PhD in English and currently is a professor of creative writing at Chicago State University. Visit Nnedi at nnedi.com.
I have been salivating over Kabu Kabu since I first saw Nnedi Okorafor tweeting about it a few months ago. When I saw it was available to review, I pounced and, after reading just the first story, I was not disappointed. I laughed out loud, so loudly in fact the neighboring dogs had to come back with their own version of the raucous sounds I was making.
The title story deals with the kabu kabu which is, from what I understand, a less than um.. legal cab service in Nigeria. I could understand this from some real life, somewhat related experience as I spent some time in Jamaica and the foremost warning given to me was on the taxi cab services. However, I think had the potential for a ride similar to the one in Kabu Kabu been offered, I might just have taken them up on their offer.
The stories in Kabu Kabu are trippy, fun, far-fetched, laugh-out-loud funny, and enlightening. Okorafor's writing is a welcome, fresh distraction from much of the fantasy that I tend to read and a reminder that there are writers out there who focus on other mythologies and traditions - that fantasy does not have to be about some blonde-haired knight who is stuck between a savage and a cliff to jump off of. (Read the book, you'll understand.)
I don't know if Kabu Kabu will get the buzz it deserves. I know that I have given out Okorafor's name more times than I can count to various fantasy lovers. I wish I could force people to read her works - but since I can't, I'll just say here in this public setting that Okorafor is an author to be praised and Kabu Kabu is just another strong notch in her belt of great works.
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Nnedi Okorafor's story collection KABU KABU, published in 2013, provides the reader with a fascinating glimpse into the author's rich imagination, vibrant language and captivating scenarios. Created at different stages in her extensive writing career, Okorafor treats us to a range of intriguing characters and their adventures, skilfully (and successfully) combining elements of speculative fiction and fantasy with African folklore and magical realism, and yes, indeed, political and social present day issues. Many of her stories have been nominated, shortlisted and/or have won literary recognition and awards as have her novels.
Born in the US of Nigerian parents, Nnedi Okorafor developed strong ties to her parents' home country since her childhood. Not surprisingly, her stories here are set in Nigeria - the real and the imagined society. In fact, Okorafor is a convincing advocate for an African science fiction kind of storytelling. It opens, among others, new avenues for creating future realities.
Admittedly, I am not usually a great fan of speculative fiction, yet, Okorafor has captured my attention and imagination, from the first story to the last - all twenty one of them. I particular enjoyed the character of Arro-yo, the "windseeker", who appears in several somewhat linked stories. Arro-yo is an outcast in her community because she can capture the wind and fly. Okorafor expands with her stories on African folklore that singled out girls born with "locked hair" and who had special powers. They could bring misery and misfortune to their home and were therefore chased away. Arro-yo's adventures in Okorafor's stories are nonetheless anchored very much in reality, whether she is caught up in civil unrest or fears for her life for other reasons.Read more ›
Okorafor is an author whose work I always feel as if I was missing something. Just not getting that little bit needed to finish the picture as it were. As a reader I was one piece short of a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle.
And pro or con, I always felt somehow the lack was mine. So on the one hand, I felt as if Okorafor was a worthy author, I also felt that as a reader I was losing out whenever I tried her work.
Not in this case. With all the wonderful and not so wonderful webzines out there now, short speculative fiction abounds. And more and more I'm convinced that short fiction done well might be harder to produce than long form novels. Okorafor manages to deliver for me works that actually startled me with views very fresh and a voice that I have not enjoyed anywhere else. Part of it is the immersion in settings and cultures that few if any other authors manage to mix and meld with touch that manages to be deft, wry and silly. All often in the same work.
At the risk of sounding provincial, one of the chief delights is her ability to blend the ties between a nation embraced and the nation of birth still beating strongly in her characters' life blood. All the while delivering fantasy that is firmly rooted in the reality of recognizable life and the sublime wonders of an imagination unleashed.
If you love Okorafor's previous works, you will want to grab and savor this delightful feast of fantasy. If you have never tried her works, this is a great pool to jump into and explore. Be warned though, the quality of many of these short works might leave you aching futilely for greater length and exposition. But that is perhaps the best feeling any written work can leave one with, no?
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