All That Death Can Be: Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor

This novel takes you to places you’ve never been before while bringing you back to the familiar, the tender, and the beautiful moments that make life worth living. A singular journey about accepting who we are, and accepting others, with the admission that love comes at the price of pain, always, and that the things we are afraid of are not always the greatest threats. 

Sankofa is death incarnate. She has destroyed entire cities, helped those who needed the aid of death pass gently, and deposes any threat to her existence, even mosquitoes–who plagued her with malaria as a child–almost without conscious thought. She is 14 years-old and has been alone on the road, searching for a mysterious alien artifact, for years.

Everywhere she goes, people know her name. They know to treat her well, bringing her gifts, allowing her to stay, feeding and clothing her; treating her as a demigod. But she is not truly welcome. They are happy to see her go.

As the “adopted daughter of death” she brings what people fear most everywhere she walks. And yet, as a young woman in Africa, she represents the most at-risk among us. Women have fewer rights in her country and are subject to Muslim law. 

As a child, she used to draw sky words, her unique constellations, in the stars while sitting atop a tree in her backyard. She thinks that’s why the alien artifact, the meteor that struck the base of her tree, was given to her. That she communicated with something greater than herself. 

And yet, her gift costs her everything; her family, her home, and each new home she tries to establish. The only friend she has is a fox that escaped from the zoo and follows her everywhere. She often sleeps in the jungle, alone.

At its core, this is a novel about other people projecting their fears onto something, or someone, innocent. Someone who cannot change who they are and or is no more responsible for their fortune than anyone who looks up at the sky and draws a new constellation.

Sankofa means no harm. Yet, when harm comes to her, she responds with a power that elevates her status. That status comes at the price of suspicion–even one town’s robotic police officer, which uses drones to surveil her, and cannot comprehend why Sankofa has no digital footprint. That elevated status destroys every relationship she attempts to forge. 

Is this a critique of society, about race, or about the status of women? All of the above. While Sankofa embodies everyone’s fears revolving around death, they truly fear her because she transcends society’s bounds. She does not fit into anyone’s schema. 

Orokafor writes with strikingly simple, elegant prose, creating a world effortlessly through the development of Sankofa’s character, leaving the edges just blurry enough so that the reader knows it goes on forever and somehow, somewhere, borders our own. 

The novel is heartfelt, endearing, sad, beautiful, and liberating. There is no doubt that all of those attributes are intentional, and that’s what makes this a must read.

This novel is all that death can be. 

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