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Previous Reads: Fiction > Akata Witch, Nnedi Okorafor

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message 1: by Louise, Group Founder (new)

Louise | 680 comments Mod
Thread for our September read - Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

Akata Witch (goodreads blurb)
Born in New York, but living in Aba, Nigeria, twelve-year old Sunny is understandably a little lost. She is albino and thus, incredibly sensitive to the sun. All Sunny wants to do is be able to play football and get through another day of school without being bullied. But once she befriends Orlu and Chichi, Sunny is plunged in to the world of the Leopard People, where your worst defect becomes your greatest asset. Together, Sunny, Orlu, Chichi and Sasha form the youngest ever Oha Coven. Their mission is to track down Black Hat Otokoto, the man responsible for kidnapping and maiming children. Will Sunny be able to overcome the killer with powers stronger than her own, or will the future she saw in the flames become reality?

Nnedi Okorafor (from her website)
Nnedi Okorafor is an international award-winning novelist of African-based science fiction, fantasy and magical realism for both children and adults. Born in the United States to two Nigerian immigrant parents, Nnedi is 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”.

Carol will be leading discussion on this book, and I am looking forward to reading.


message 2: by Melissa (new)

Melissa Cassel | 38 comments It is an excellent read.


message 3: by Carol (last edited Sep 04, 2018 05:55PM) (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 2361 comments Mod
I’ve just started Akata Witch and am happily surprised by its complexity. It is categorized as YA, I believe, because it’s main character is school-aged. It’s themes of struggling to belong, to find one’s place in the world, wanting to fit in but having externally visible differentiating characteristics, having a troubling relationship with one’s father and/or brothers — these aren’t limited to teens. And her writing isn’t filled with the simple sentences and more-than-obvious observations that mar certain YA novels.

We learn early on (page 11) that “Akata” is an insult...”It meant ‘bush animal’ and was used to refer to black Americans or foreign-born blacks.” It is a term Sunny hates. Why does Okorafor entitle her novel with a slur applied to her main character?

Let us know if you plan to join the discussion.

If you have started, what are your initial impressions?


message 4: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 2361 comments Mod
Kristin wrote: "I have this on it's way! I enjoyed Who Fears Death by the same author and have heard great things about this one, too. Interesting that you say this one is a YA novel but doesn't nec..."

I’ve even seen it characterized as “middle grade” but it’s at least as complex as the second Harry Potter book, and notwithstanding my general snobbery about YA, I am a strong proponent of the view that the HP series is suitable for adult reading without the need for kids in a household as an excuse.

In any event, I am up to page 86 and this is a fast enjoyable read.


message 5: by Frozenwaffle (new)

Frozenwaffle | 11 comments Gonna start it today! Glad to be joining in on the group reads for the first time :D


message 6: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 2361 comments Mod
Frozenwaffle wrote: "Gonna start it today! Glad to be joining in on the group reads for the first time :D"

We are lucky to have extracted you from the world of the Silent Lurkers :) You've picked a great one to join in on.

One of the things I've appreciated so far is that the core characters ring true. So many great authors have difficulty writing a cast of teen characters. They can create a protagonist who is deep and complex, but the friends, family, teachers, etc. are often paper thin and stereotypical in the roles they play. Okorafor's got this handled, for the most part. (Chichi initially struck me as the standard eye-rolling difficult girl, but her character deepens pretty quickly). The most recent YA book I read and thought succeeded on this point was The Hate U Give (excluding the white school friends and the too-perfect boyfriend).

What does everyone else think?


message 7: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 2361 comments Mod
I found an interesting and educational review authored by Nigerian-born poet (and computer engineer) Uche Ogbuji.

http://thenervousbreakdown.com/uogbuj...

The first couple of paragraphs address the use of "Akata" in the title, if that topic interests you.

The following excerpt is from the end of the review:

The novel continues Nnedi’s style of writing that can be classified as Young Adult without stinting in pleasure for older readers. She has always used her storyteller’s instinct to blend worldwide traditions with entirely alien conceptions while narrating expansive adventures that never lose their grounding and accessibility. She has surpassed herself in Akata Witch by bringing to life for readers of all backgrounds so many fascinating cultural facets that would be obscure to Westerners and even Easterners. If you have read any of her other novels, including the highly acclaimed and award-winning Who Fears Death, topic of my previous interview, you’ll appreciate glimpses of her recurring themes, including the spiritual wilderness, and even a mention, in a meeting of the council of African Leopard elders, of Ginen, the world of Zahrah the Windseeker that also looms large in The Shadow Speaker.

What I personally love best about the novel is how well it plays on the confusion of identities that affect so many Nigerians, especially those who’ve split time between Nigeria and the U.S. or Europe as children. I certainly remember returning from America to Nigeria at the age of ten, after seven years abroad, and encountering hostility and ridicule as an outsider, feeling as if I didn’t really belong on any of the three continents I’d called home at one time or another, and finding my way mostly in the company of fellow misfits. Akata Witch integrates these experiences neatly into a greater framework, ultimately grounding itself in the age-old storyline clash between earnest goodness and utter evil. Reading the book is a transporting experience but with a good deal of shocks and jolts that bring the narrative suddenly near at hand. I suspect I gained much particular enjoyment from the familiar flashes of tradition and language, but I suspect other less familiar readers would enjoy the same bits as flashes of exotic wonder without losing the story. No less an august commentator than Ursula K. Le Guin said “There’s more vivid imagination in a page of Nnedi Okorafor’s work than in whole volumes of ordinary fantasy epics.” If you want a fresh take on novels about children immersed in a magical world, in a colorful and engaging setting, I highly recommend Akata Witch.


Do you agree?


message 8: by Louise, Group Founder (new)

Louise | 680 comments Mod
I’ll probably be a bit late joining this, was having trouble finding a copy that wasn’t prohibitively expensive and shipped from US.

Which leads me to...

Important announcement for UK/Nigerian readers! The book goes by the title What Sunny Saw in the Flames in the UK and Nigeria.

I shall update first post when I’m on a proper computer.


message 9: by Anita (new)

Anita (anitafajitapitareada) | 1041 comments Mod
Starting today! :) I've read some interesting non-fiction that delves into the lore, mysticism, and "juju" surrounding albinos. Unfortunately they've been horrific stories, so I was surprised to see this marked as a YA.


message 10: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 2361 comments Mod
Anita wrote: "Starting today! :) I've read some interesting non-fiction that delves into the lore, mysticism, and "juju" surrounding albinos. Unfortunately they've been horrific stories, so I was surprised to se..."

Anita, if you have any non-fiction titles on that topic which you'd recommend, I'd be interested. This is my first encounter of juju in the context of albinos and I'm curious to learn more.


message 11: by Anita (new)

Anita (anitafajitapitareada) | 1041 comments Mod
Hmm, I couldn't find any after a cursory look. Most of my reading has been online scholarly or news articles, although I remember seeing a few different documentaries on NatGeo. I did see a book titled Golden Boy that seemed like it might be asking the lines, but I haven't read it so I couldn't vouch for it. I'll keep looking though!


message 12: by Anita (new)

Anita (anitafajitapitareada) | 1041 comments Mod
That was Golden Boy by Tara Sullivan


message 13: by Frozenwaffle (new)

Frozenwaffle | 11 comments Carol wrote: "We are lucky to have extracted you from the world of the Silent Lurkers :) "

I am indeed the definition of a silent lurker in most of my goodreads groups, but I'd like to become an active part of the community, and I love this group :D

I'm 42% done with this book, I was slow to start but once I did, whoa! What a page-turner it turned out :P I bought the kindle book from amazon, where this is branded as the "nigerian harry potter" and I have to say I do agree with this comparison, for once! I felt pulled in and filled with wonder like this too, when I first read harry potter.

The quote from Ursula K. Le Guin is the most accurate praise I've ever seen on a book cover!

The way local lore and mythology are woven into the story reminds me alot of Nalo Hopkinsons writting too, I can already tell this is my first book by this author and far from the last.

I agree that the characters are well drawn out and each with their complexity. I like the upside down things like copper>>gold, knowledge >>money; perceived flaws being in fact unique talents, stuff like that.


I wonder if there will be an explanation for her father's meanness, and wonder if it was his idea naming her Sunny, when she is albino and must avoid the sun - doesn't that strike you as a bit cruel?


message 14: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 2361 comments Mod
Frozenwaffle wrote: "Carol wrote: "We are lucky to have extracted you from the world of the Silent Lurkers :) "

I am indeed the definition of a silent lurker in most of my goodreads groups, but I'd like to become an a..."


You’ve reminded me that I need to read Nalo Hopkinson. It’s odd that I won’t read a book because I love its cover, but I often let ugly book covers influence not selecting a book. I’ve almost uniformly disliked the covers publishers select for Hopkinson’s novels, which is absurd.

Her father. Ugh. I’m also interested in whether we will gain more insight into him. I think the likeliest explanation is practical not principled. It is Okorafor ‘s solution to every author’s dilemma where her main character is a minor — how to get the parents out of the way so that they are neither a source of comfort or rescue, and may even create more risk of punishment of the MC’s activities are discovered. Absent killing them off, the universal Disney solution and the one Rowling used particularly well, she has to create parents who either don’t care, don’t love, or have a disabling vice or illness that renders them uber-distracted. Here, dad is mean and mom is traditional in deferring to him and in her own parenting style, which leaves Sunny isolated and fearful and unlikely to either tell them anything about her Leopard status (in breach of her vow, of course), or turn to them if peril threatens. Sunny must solve all of her dilemmas on her own, the classic challenge of adolescence, ultimately.

Naming her Sunny: your point is well-taken and I’d missed that entirely. Yes, I agree. Are we told that Sunny is her given name? I would have thought that it might be a nickname but that her given name would be traditional. I also know little about albinism. Is it apparent from birth, or does it emerge weeks or months later? Any chance she was named in ignorance of her albino trait?


message 15: by Anita (new)

Anita (anitafajitapitareada) | 1041 comments Mod
I'm about 85 percent through and I'm starting to get a little concerned about how quickly this has to wrap up at this point. I hope it isn't a rushed ending!
I have to admit that when I first read the comment about this being called a Nigerian Harry Potter that I started reading comparatively and it took me out of the story a bit. But, I'd also have to agree with that comment because it really draws the reader into its world in much the same way as Harry Potter. It's really magical!
I'm more curious about the grandmother at this point and I almost wonder if she had something to do with Sunny's naming. I'm not sure what information I'm in for regarding Ozo (Sunny's grandmother) towards the end of the book though.


message 16: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 2361 comments Mod
Anita wrote: "I'm about 85 percent through and I'm starting to get a little concerned about how quickly this has to wrap up at this point. I hope it isn't a rushed ending!
I have to admit that when I first read..."


I am at 42%. I know what you mean about how quickly the wrap-up must occur, and I'm just hoping that she doesn't give us the no-closure cliffhanger that requires you to read book 2. I want to read book 2, but I am not a fan of authors who make me do so to wrap up key plotlines.

That's really interesting about the grandmother. I assume you mean the one that we suspect might also have been a Leopard, but Sunny's family tells her almost nothing and I think there's a suggestion of mental illness, and corresponding family shame. Do I have the right one?


message 17: by Anita (new)

Anita (anitafajitapitareada) | 1041 comments Mod
Yes, that's the one Carol. She's mentioned briefly every now and then. Often enough to make me wonder at why. But every time she's brought up, the topic is brushed aside and the story moves on.


message 18: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 2361 comments Mod
Anita wrote: "Yes, that's the one Carol. She's mentioned briefly every now and then. Often enough to make me wonder at why. But every time she's brought up, the topic is brushed aside and the story moves on."

Yes, it's as if Okorafor definitely wants us to ask the question about whether Sunny truly is a free agent, or the hereditary link has been obscured. I haven't had the feeling that Sunny's parents actually know anything, though, about the magical world. Perhaps, speaking of Harry Potter, they are the Dursley's - so deep in denial and shushing up the truth that they can't even see the truth, let alone pass the information on to their kids.


message 19: by Frozenwaffle (last edited Sep 12, 2018 02:33AM) (new)

Frozenwaffle | 11 comments Carol wrote: "Naming her Sunny: your point is well-taken and I’d missed that entirely. Yes, I agree. Are we told that Sunny is her given name? I would have thought that it might be a nickname but that her given name would be traditional. "


I understood it was her given name, but now that you mention it I'm not sure.

Carol wrote: " I also know little about albinism. Is it apparent from birth, or does it emerge weeks or months later? Any chance she was named in ignorance of her albino trait? "

According to google it is apparent from birth, so it can't have been out of ignorance! I'm intrigued.

I've finished the book so I'm not sure how much I should comment or if its best to wait that the majority has finished also before we bring the heavy spoilers!


Anita wrote: "I have to admit that when I first read the comment about this being called a Nigerian Harry Potter that I started reading comparatively and it took me out of the story a bit. "

I'm sorry about that Anita! I mentioned it because I am always rolley eyes at such sensationalist comparisons, and was surprised to agree with it in this case :)


message 20: by Frozenwaffle (last edited Sep 12, 2018 02:47AM) (new)

Frozenwaffle | 11 comments An Igbo masquerade:

description

"Masquerades, otherwise known as mmanwu in Igbo parlance, are integral part of the Igbo mythology. It is believed to be a form of cult that correlates with the ancestral spirits. They are feared and respected for being the spirit of the ancestors who had died and often resurface through ‘ant mounds’ to adjudicate on matters that have defied the wisdom of the living."

I wonder if Chichi's envolvement is a feminist stand of sorts, seeing as this web article states women are forbidden to be a part of masquerades:

"Women in Igbo land are forbidden from joining the masquerade cult or see mmanwu, especially during its rare nocturnal movement. Such women who, by error or happenstance, accost the masquerade, mostly the dreaded ‘Ajofia’, the one that is dressed in smoked raffia palm, are fined heavily."

http://thenationonlineng.net/death-ho...


message 21: by Anita (new)

Anita (anitafajitapitareada) | 1041 comments Mod
No worries Frozenwaffle, I had to agree with it too! Thanks for that photo, it's very interesting.

There was a lot of "girls can't do that" in this book and a lot of Sunny showing that yes, they can. Which, of course, I enjoyed :)


message 22: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 2361 comments Mod
Frozenwaffle wrote: "An Igbo masquerade:

"Masquerades, otherwise known as mmanwu in Igbo parlance, are integral part of the Igbo mythology. It is believed to be a form of cult that correlates with the ancestral spiri..."


This is fascinating!! Thanks so much for sharing it.


message 23: by Carol (last edited Sep 12, 2018 02:23PM) (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 2361 comments Mod
SPOILER ALERT

We are discussing any aspect of the whole book now that we're almost midway through September. Note that comments posted after this point may include spoilers.


message 24: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 2361 comments Mod
On page 147, after one of the Black Hat victims is found, but minus his eyes, Sasha says, “Damn. They actually have serial killers here? ... I thought that was an American thing.” I recall reading the same sentiment a couple of years ago in City of Veils by Zoë Ferraris, which takes place in Saudi Arabia. At the time I thought it was a Middle East-specific view, based in part on the tendency to deny anything outside of preferred societal norms exists. As when Iran’s leader says that homosexuality doesn’t exist in his country.

But then I’ve also encountered multiple times (in person and in fiction, but still anecdotal) Nigerians expressing a view that many mental illnesses are not real, but a figment of Americans’ tendency to designate everything a disease or illness.

I wonder. Does most of the world think that serial killers exist only in America, or is that view held only by residents of more conservative countries and cultures? What has been your experience of others’ views of differentiating American criminality and/or mental disease?


message 25: by Melissa (new)

Melissa Cassel | 38 comments it is an excellent book .


message 26: by Sophie (new)

Sophie | 187 comments Carol wrote: "On page 147, after one of the Black Hat victims is found, but minus his eyes, Sasha says, “Damn. They actually have serial killers here? ... I thought that was an American thing.” I recall reading ..."
Hi Carol, This is an interesting observation. I did catch this comment in Akata Witch but missed it in City of Veils which I recently read. In this instance I thought it was just to illustrate Sasha's "Americaness". That yes, this type of thing is common in America. Whereas in countries like Saudi Arabia and Nigeria, punishment is swifter and harsher so these crimes would be less likely.


message 27: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 2361 comments Mod
Ack. On page 191, we find out the deal with Sunny’s mysterious grandmother. I so did not see that coming.


message 28: by Anita (new)

Anita (anitafajitapitareada) | 1041 comments Mod
Carol, I was pretty convinced that was coming up with the grandmother being where she got her Leopard people lineage from.
I definitely got a series vibe from this book, like there was a bit of set up for the future books and a few questions were raised without answers.
I do think it ultimately wrapped up a bit quickly and neatly with The Black Hat though. I was hoping for some more insight to Sunny's grandmother through him. Though I guess there was a bit of loose story given that she was his mentor, ultimately he killed her (Am I remembering that correctly?). Perhaps because it's written for a younger audience I won't get as much detail as I'm used to.
I also am totally tickled at the coins falling from the sky everytime they learn something. I imagine sound effects like a video game. If only! Where do they come from??


message 29: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 2361 comments Mod
Carol wrote: "Ack. On page 191, we find out the deal with Sunny’s mysterious grandmother. I so did not see that coming."

I should have been more clear. We all knew that the grandmother would turn out to be a Leopard, but that she mentored the Black Hand killer? That was a surprise to me. Partly because we've only known that the Black Hand is a leopard for maybe 20 pages before we get that second reveal, but also it's a leap from nothing to that piece of info. But I digress....

oh - and I love that aspect (the coins, too), and that they disappear. You can't horde or save them up for some day. They're here now - take action with them or move on.


message 30: by Frozenwaffle (new)

Frozenwaffle | 11 comments Carol wrote: "I wonder. Does most of the world think that serial killers exist only in America, or is that view held only by residents of more conservative countries and cultures? What has been your experience of others’ views of differentiating American criminality and/or mental disease? "

Thats a great question, I never thought about that. Human nature being what it is, serial killers may appear anywhere - but I definitely think that the knowledge of serial killers exists mostly thanks to the US.

Here in Portugal, for example, we don't have a systematic authority department that would document and study the psychological side of criminals. The size and organization by state of the US also makes it more prone to the existence of serial killers maybe, its so big that someone has more opportunity to fly under the radar, or escape being arrested, for longer?

Mental illness is also something that we need to make progress on. There is alot of tabu and a hazy idea that lazyness is underneath mental health complainers...

Carol wrote: "I love that aspect (the coins, too), and that they disappear. You can't horde or save them up for some day. They're here now - take action with them or move on. ."

The coins disappear? I missed that completely.


message 31: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 2361 comments Mod
Frozenwaffle wrote: "Carol wrote: "I wonder. Does most of the world think that serial killers exist only in America, or is that view held only by residents of more conservative countries and cultures? What has been you..."

Somewhere early on, sunny asked chichi about them and
I recall that fact (their ephemeral nature) being part of the conversation. I’d need to go back and find it.


message 32: by Louise, Group Founder (new)

Louise | 680 comments Mod
I finally finished!

And from that you can probably guess I had a different reaction to the book from a lot of you here. For a short, easy, read that I would put firmly in the 8-12 years section of a bookshop, I found it an absolute slog to get through. The pacing was so slow I almost thought the book would have to end before they even met Black Hat. Then, despite taking so long to get there, it somehow lacked enough build-up for me to be emotionally invested in it when it did occur before being so simply resolved that I closed the book sort of thinking 'is that it?'

I think it's perhaps time for me to just acknowledge that I don't like Okorafor's writing very much. This is the second time I've tried something of hers and the second time I've been fascinated by the ideas but bored by the way they were executed and uninterested in any of her characters.

It's annoying because I wanted so much to love this, it sounds so good in summary, but reading it in its entirety it just fell flat.


message 33: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 2361 comments Mod
Louise wrote: "I finally finished!

And from that you can probably guess I had a different reaction to the book from a lot of you here. For a short, easy, read that I would put firmly in the 8-12 years section of..."


I’m glad you shared your thoughts, Louise, and sorry it was such a slog. I felt the way you describe about Binti; but a 96 page slog is considerably less. Moreover, it’s always a strange feeling when I go into a book expecting I will love it, and immediately have that ‘meh’ feeling, combined with, ‘is it just me.’ Two books is an exceedingly fair shot.

I am glad I read Akata, and I enjoyed many aspects of it greatly. I also enjoyed it far more than BintI, but I wouldn’t continue the series unless I was reading it with my daughter or a niece who especially wanted do to read it together.


message 34: by Melissa (new)

Melissa Cassel | 38 comments It was an excellent book.


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