Remote Control

My blog’s tag line is one book leads to another because it’s true for me! Here’s how it worked with Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor. I read about it in a magazine and wrote the title down in my notebook. Months later I finished listening to Matrix by Lauren Groff on audiobook and was so taken by the narrator, Adjoa Andoh, that I decided to search for other books she’s brought to life. Lo and behold, she narrated Remote Control. Yes! I dove in without really knowing anything about the story and it turned out to be one of my favorite reads of the year.

In a nutshell, this sci-fi novella is amazing, and Andoh is amazing, and she and Okorafor have created an amazing audiobook, one guaranteed to make you rejoice and be grateful for Storytellers.

In a twist, because I’m usually all about physical books, I recommend you listen to the audiobook Remote Control first, mostly because of the Ghanaian names and accents. I don’t think I would have done them justice, reading aloud in my head, whereas the narrator is fully immersed in the language and lilt of Ghanaian dialect. Listen first, then be like me and read the physical book, slowly, knowing the story but savoring it anew.

Okay, onto the review: First, please do judge this book by its glittery, disco, futuristic cover. Isn’t it fantastic?

Remote Control tells the story of Sankofa, “Death’s adopted daughter.” Before her life blows up she is Fatima, happy with her family on their shea tree farm in Ghana. She’s a sweet and curious five-year-old who finds a seed / egg-shaped object after a meteor shower. Or did it find her? She was watching the shower while sitting in her favorite tree when a green streak came down and hit the tree. It left the small object behind and Fatima is sure it’s there just for her. She holds it and some of the green glow seems to seep into her skin. Then she drops it and it’s swallowed up into the ground.

In a series of circumstances – both otherworldly and parental – the object comes back to Fatima but then is lost again. When she has it in her possession she’s happy. She keeps it in the wooden box it emerged in and talks to it. What child doesn’t love something of their own, something they value despite the amusement of others?

“Oh!” Fatima whispered as she bent down to pick it up. “Is it for me?” Of course it was. “You’ve come back to me!” she said to the seed.

Then a year later everything changes. There’s an accident and let’s just say that the green glow that Fatima absorbed comes out of her with disastrous results. She loses everything, even forgetting her name. She decides to become Sankofa, which is the name of a bird / symbol in Ghana. It’s also a connection to her brother, who carved wooden Sankofa figures.

Remote Control reminds me of fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm where loving families experience horrible violence. In this sci-fi fairy tale our heroine Sankofa begins to walk, on a quest to find her box and seed. She’s furious at the destruction it brought and doesn’t understand why it happened. As a child all alone in the world she has to ‘mute’ the pain so she can go on.

Okorafor writes in a matter-of-fact style but with a sense of humor and an expansive imagination. Her Ghana is a mix of futuristic life with autonomous vehicles, drone deliveries and jelli tellis, alongside dusty roads and ancient superstitions.

Sankofa becomes something of a scary legend because her power – the green glow – can take a life. She has to defend herself occasionally but for the most part she’s something of an angel of death, taking people who are sick and who ask for her help.

As she travels she has a companion, a fox who escaped from a zoo and made his new home on their shea tree farm. She calls him Movenpick and their relationship adds to the otherworldliness of Remote Control.

There are some deeper themes here, like our relationship with technology and the existence of corporate interests with bad intentions. But I think of this as an adventure story. Despite the sadness, it has a satisfyingly happy ending, one that’s good for the reader’s heart. Go ahead, take a walk through Ghana with Sankofa. Just watch out for that green glow…

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