week 1 | chapters 1-7

As you read the beginning chapters of Noor, consider the below questions and post your thoughts to the comments section (or save them for our virtual conversation on January 19)!

What is or is not recognisable about the world Okorafor has created in this narrative––both with respect to the physicality of the built environment and on a geopolitical level? How far in the future do you imagine the story takes place?

How do notions of the sub- and the super-human conflate in people’s perception of AO Oju? What do people begrudge beings ‘like her’? How do their reactions to her individually hint at broader conflicts among communities in Noor‘s world?

How might we understand understand AO Oju’s abilities/disabilities/”unabilities”? How does she understand them?

What have you noticed about the storytelling structure of the novel?

4 Replies to “week 1 | chapters 1-7”

  1. I read Noor last year and really loved it, so this time around I decided to listen to the audiobook, narrated by Délé Ogundiran, which I’m really enjoying as well. These prompts are really making me notice new things about the novel (especially about its structure), but I wanted to write a bit today about the question on ability/disability/”unability.” One of the clear themes of this book is AO’s fierce commitment to living her life on her own terms in the body that she chooses–or “builds” as she says. Okorafor even dedicates the novel “To those who unapologetically accept and embrace all that they are.”

    The choices AO makes about her cybernetic modifications center her own well-being and sense of aesthetics (that function is beautiful), not the comfort of others. For example, she chooses not to cover her prosthetic arm with flesh and dismisses “the aesthetics of traditional beauty.” She makes this choice understanding that the world she lives in will read her body as “demonic” and dangerous. I had to work through some unease I had about the idea of beauty being tied to function. I realized that I was conflating function and usefulness, which AO isn’t doing. For me, something being beautiful because it was “useful” was very problematic in the context of disability and, of course, capitalism, which benefits from the lie that our value is in our usefulness. But AO is describing something else: “For me, it is not in the look, it’s in the function, the kinetics, the motion, the fluidity of moving in space and time.”

    One other thing I’ve been noticing this time around is that the ways that her body is understood as disabled have more to do with religion than with the physical environment. I’ve learned from many disability activists and advocates over the years that bodies aren’t passively disabled. Instead the world we’ve built actively disables bodies. Noor seems to jump over the ways the built environment disables AO (or perhaps y’all remember some instances where this is happening?) and gets right to humans and human beliefs making it unsafe for AO to be in the world.

    Alicia says:
  2. These remarks are so insightful, Alicia. The centering of her own well-being, as you note, frames the entire novel – including down to the fact that Noor is a self-told tale, an I-narrative, a chronicle of self-definition. One of my favourite lines – “So though my legs looked like the skeleton of a half-made robot, I was marvelous.” That idea of marvelous being really gets me. Beyond utility or function, even, there is all that the marvelous connotes (wonder, delight, unboundedness, etc). Okorafor manages to infuse what might otherwise be a purely dystopian tale with this persistent sub-current of marvelous potential, linked to AO’s extraordinary body and to the spirit that emerged in relation to and animates it.

    Kaiama Glover says:
  3. Great questions! So many questions. One thing I was struck by in relation to AO’s experience of her body is how gradual it was. Her infant body is disabled pre-awareness almost, she “chooses” her first modifications with a feeling of excitement at possibility, then there are later modifications meant to repair damage from the mysterious crash. There are all these phases of modification and maybe along with, shifting measures of what ability means. After she is jumped by the gang of men, something in her head shifts and that shift keeps feeding into other shifts that unlock tremendous power but also threateningly lethal pain. Makes me think of puberty for some reason. She also struggles with the memory of her body as it was at different points in life – remembering and misremembering her body her self. Which makes me think of that book and the relationship between the body and the self. The more modifications the more anxiety about the loss of the flesh (self?) These aren’t direct responses to the prompt but just ‘thoughts.

    abosede says:
  4. So appreciate the great questions and insightful comments! I am wondering about how Okorafor is integrating, interrogating, and crafting notions of disability/ability and mobility in conversation with AO’s gendered self and womanhood. The title of Chapter 1 is “What Kind of Woman Are You?” AO mentions that this is a question her ex-fiancé Olaniyi posed to her a short time before he left. It is the same question that the beautiful Hausa man asks, and it is her refusal to answer both men (“I will never answer your question.”) that results in her being slapped in the face by both on separate occasions. Her refusal to answer this question is what seemingly incites the first physical blow from the Hausa man. When asked by DNA, she still refuses to answer this question, and she only responds to his question about whether she is alive like a human being.

    Although her womanhood is questioned and deemed questionable by other people, the ways AO describes an acceptance and even protection by other creatures (dragonflies, chickens, the cow and bull) reflect these creatures’ acceptance of her exactly as she is. These other animals do not seem to perceive, or ascribe special meanings to,
    “degrees” of humanity (whether AO is “mostly human” or DNA is “fully human”). Interesting intermingling of humanity, animality, biotechnology, and science in these early chapters.

    I am also curious about how Okorafor characterizes some men as erroneously assuming AO’s vulnerability as a woman. This includes selected references to AO’s gendered position in Abuja and in mostly Muslim spaces.

    Love all of the invocations of Nigerian food (e.g., egusi and pounded yam), attire (e.g., agbada), common parlance, and talking drums.

    dreaddie gal says:

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