Imagine a woman so dynamic, so powerful that she can change her age, sex or even race?
Part One of the book opens to with Doro, whom through is already ancient travels, finds himself in Africa. While here, he encounters an old woman named Anyanwu (pronounced Ee-yan-woo).
Doro is immortal. So is Anyanwu.
The story, told in two parts, focuses on the relationship between Doro and Anyanwu; the relevance of time and those whom stand outside of it; what it means to be both powerful and woman; the value of tradition and the insidious nature of power in the hands of the irresponsible.
The most fascinating dynamic for this book is, must be Anyanwu and Doro. Their first meeting is adversarial, domineering even! He asserts and inserts himself in her life, and manipulating her to go to America. At the time Doro finds her in Africa, she is 300 years old at that point. And upon taking her to America, this around the time of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. The novel walks the reader from rural, agricultural Africa, colonial New England, the American antebellum South and the Great Migration West towards California. As with all works of Octavia Butler, there is and remains a deep, supernatural component.
Anyanwu is a shape-shifter, a witch and oh-so Black. This type of protagonist is rare in this sci-fi/speculative fiction genre. She is fierce, intelligent and when need me resourceful and ruthless in the protection of her family. With these preternatural abilities, she sees Doro for the abusive, manipulative enitity he is–calling him an ogbanje.
An Ọgbanje (strictly “Ọgbanje” and cannot be substituted with “Ọbanje”, the “gb” forms a single consonant in the Igbo language) is a term in Odinani (Igbo: ọ̀dị̀nànị̀) (or ) for what was believed to be an evil spirit that would deliberately plague a family with misfortune. Its literal translation in the Igbo language is “children who come and go”. It was believed that within a certain amount of time from birth (usually not past puberty), the Ọgbanje would deliberately die and then come back and repeat the cycle causing the family grief. Female circumcision was sometimes thought to get rid of the evil spirit, whereas finding the evil spirits Iyi-uwa, which they had dug somewhere secret, would ensure the Ọgbanje would never plague the family with misfortune again. The Iyi-ụwa was the Ọgbanje’s way of coming back to the world and also a way of finding its targeted family. The dead child would be cut or mutilated so he or she would not return. Some ọgbanje, however, were said to return, bearing the physical scars of the mutilation.
You see, Doro could be male or female…just like Anyanwu.
Octavia Butler said that she wrote about power so much because ‘she had so little’.
This work is characteristic of the kind of power, layering and plot imagery found in Octavia Butler’s work. This book took me a week a plow through. One week. The book through Audible is about 12 hours to get through. The physical text is over 300 pages. I need you to understand that this book scratches the surface of Octavia’s talent, skill and power.
If you have one author to follow and fangirl about this year, start with Octavia Butler.
[image from Amazon]