Nnedi Okorafor's Novel Noor Should be Next on Your Reading List—Here's Why

March 1, 2022

Back in 2019, I committed to boycotting Amazon, and by extension, Whole Foods. It was an adjustment, but not an unreasonable commitment to carry out. My hometown had a natural grocer that carried many of my staple items. Beyond that, I tried to obtain whatever else I needed locally or directly from manufacturers. And sticking with it the past few years made me quite proud of myself.

But as a result of my recent move, I arrived at a bit of a loss for some of my staple items. (Who knew TVP is so difficult to come by?) Defeated, I relapsed and went to Whole Foods for a grocery trip. I felt ambivalence; I had shame, but I was also thrilled to fill my cart with beautiful organic mangos and vegan novelties. I ultimately shrugged it off. I rationalized that it is temporary  and I have to do what is best for me. As I explore and learn my new city, I will certainly find a grocer I feel good about, right?

Coincidentally, I started reading Nnedi Okorafor’s new novel, Noor, shortly after my Whole Foods relapse.

Okorafor’s post-apocalyptic story follows an African girl named AO, short for Artificial Organism. AO has multiple robotic body parts, as a result of being born with physical deformities. The story begins when AO, a mechanic, goes to market for ingredients to cook a comforting meal. In response to her cybernetic body parts, a man, with a group of other men, looks her up and down and asks, “What kind of woman are you?” When she refuses to answer, he slaps her across the face. No one in the market comes to her aid and she ends up killing the men in self-defense.

Unfortunately, the video of her retaliation goes viral and soon everyone believes she is a murderer. AO, a woman with physical disability, flees her hometown, running head first into a desert storm that humans (and conglomerates) created.

Along the way, she meets a cow and stops to rest with the animal. She is abruptly awoken by a man named DNA, a Fulani herdsman, who was also brutally attacked the day before. All his cows are murdered except for two, Carp Diem and GPS. A video of the attack against DNA and his cattle also goes viral, wherein DNA is portrayed as a “terrorist.”

The two humans and two animals begin traveling together, and come to an old Ultimate Corp warehouse. In the story, Ultimate Corp is the producer and supplier of everything imaginable; warehouses with rows of thirty foot high shelves, stocked with every single thing a person may need to survive. (Sound familiar?)

AO stares at the old warehouse and reflects,

I was torn, though I knew Ultimate Corp was a problem. In the end, I just focused on myself and how it affected my own life and in that way, I guess, I was able to live with Ultimate Corp’s pervasiveness.

Come to find out, Ultimate Corp is responsible for the maltreatment and misrepresentation of AO and DNA in the media. But no spoilers.. check out the book!

The incorporation of massive corporate agendas into Noor is timely and relevant. When I read Noor, I feel less alone. Certainly many of us here experience discomfort surrounding income inequality and consumption. But this story was just what I needed to refuel. I am reminded of why I started boycotting Amazon to begin with. My will is renewed, simply by reading fiction.

Because it isn’t just income inequality that drives me. Supporting massive companies like Amazon takes opportunity away from small, independent businesses. And Okorafor not only wrestles with that, but specifically engages the struggle of Black farmers who are robbed of their trade. If this phenomenon isn’t familiar to you, I encourage you to check out the 1619 Project to learn about how Black farmers are disproportionately impacted by policies and practices that hinder their success.

And if engaging disability, climate change, trillionaires and the plight of Black farmers isn’t enough to tempt you to give the novella a read, Noor can keep you company in the present and simultaneously provide an escape from it.

Happy reading, Dumplings.

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Photo: Jessica Felicio Unsplash and Zoe Schaeffer Unsplash; courtesy of publisher

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