When I first decided to give this a listen, I didn't realize it was a novella. There is so much packed into this story, and it FLIES by. I wish the series had been one book. However, I understand why the author decided to chop it up into separate works... I just wish they were novels, not novellas.
However, this is my only complaint. Listening to this audiobook was pure bliss. The narrator was perfect, the writing well-paced, the character development exquisite. I found myself truly loving this world the author has created, and rooting for Binti.
It follows the story of a woman barely into adulthood traveling to a galaxy-renowned university to study mathematics. She comes from a rich culture and people, the Himba, who mirror the African cultures of Earth. This particular group of people have developed a special substance called Otjize, which is made from the clay of their homeland, and they use it to spread in their hair and across their body. They use it ritualistically, and to keep themselves clean, since water is scarce in their part of the world. Other cultures, particularly the Khoush, look down on them for these "barbaric" ways, and judge them for their hair, language, and strange practices. This is clearly revealed as ignorance, and Binti often chooses to rise above it. Her one desire is to study at the university, and make a difference, and everything else is secondary. She leaves her family against their wishes to board a spaceflight, carrying an astrolabe (a device that carries personal info much like a cell phone does, but it also part passport, part identification). The author uses this story to bring to light very modern issues we face as human beings: she challenges our assumptions and takes head-on the judgments we have of each other and those who are different than us. There is no subtlety. This story is part science fiction, part social narrative of our own times. The line is not hard to trace, and it's done in such an original, beautiful way.
Aboard the spaceflight, Binti soon comes into contact with an alien race that everyone is afraid of: the Meduse. They overtake the ship bound for the university and kill everyone aboard except Binti and the pilot. I won't go into much detail here about the plot, except to say it's exciting and so well done. However, this seems secondary to the author's intent to highlight yet another social issue: prejudice. Binti is confronted with the fact that the Meduse aren't just some alien species with purely evil intentions and wanting galaxy dominance. They have been wronged themselves, and she soon realizes she has a real chance to make it right. She forms an unlikely...friendship?... with one of the Meduse, and sets off to prevent a war that will inevitably end with much loss of life.
These themes, of prejudice and finding one's place in the world, create a vivid portrait against the backdrop of the plot and world. It's just as much a social narrative as it is a great story, and the author succeeds in every way.
As I briefly mentioned earlier, one theme the author also explores is ignorance. And it's not just harmless ignorance that is mostly solved by education, but the type of willful ignorance that leads to catastrophe and heartache. What I appreciated about the story was that this wasn't some one-sided ignorance, where one people group are the perpetrators. She brings to light the ignorance we ALL face, in one way or another. One people's ignorance leads to racism, one leads to war, another leads to misconceptions and judgmentalism. This is something all readers can relate to, regardless of social or educational status, gender, or race.
So, to wrap it up, you pretty much want to read this story. You're welcome. *Bows*