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Literature / Zahrah the Windseeker

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Zahrah the Windseeker is the debut novel of Nnedi Okorafor, published in 2005. The story is a Science Fantasy set on the fictional planet of Ginen, where people live in, with, and by the plantlife, growing not only their food but their houses and their computers. And yet for all this, the Ooni Kingdom has strict boundaries. No one is supposed to go into the Forbidden Greeny Jungle. No one remembers why and no one wants to remember.

Zahrah Tsami is an ordinary thirteen-year-old girl. Ordinary except for the fact that she is dada, that is born with dreadlocked hair that is full of vines. While her parents celebrate this unique aspect of their daughter, Zahrah is an outcast, often bullied at school. She has only one friend, a boy called Dari, who unlike her is very popular. He's been looking out for her since they were seven years old.

When Zahrah passes her menarche it's a cause for celebration in her family. But it also starts Zahrah down a confusing path with a lot of questions she can't ask as this onset of puberty brings with it the ability to float in the air. What little material she and Dari can find says that Zahrah is a windseeker. Dari comes up with the idea that they should go into the jungle so Zahrah can practice.


However, Dari is bitten by a venomous snake, and the only cure is an egg from a creature that lives deep in the jungle. Terrified but determined, Zahrah refuses to give her friend up for dead and sets off all on her own to face the Forbidden Greeny Jungle.

Zahrah the Windseeker contains examples of the following tropes:

  • All of the Other Reindeer: Zahrah's life in a nutshell. She never even knew another dada person until she met Nsibidi.
  • Alpha Bitch: Ciwanke Mairiga, the most popular girl at school, rounds up her friends to tease Zahrah daily.
  • And the Adventure Continues: The ending hints that Zahrah's adventuring days aren't over.
  • Bamboo Technology: All of the technology on Ginen is made of plants.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Early on in her jungle adventures, Zahrah encounters a very rude frog. That frog is actually the only one who can help her.
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  • Childhood Friend Romance: There are hints that Zahrah and Dari may have deeper feelings for each other, though if and how that will develop remains to be seen.
  • City Planet: Ginen only has one habitable area. As far as they know.
  • Coming-of-Age Story: The story begins with Zahrah's parents celebrating her becoming a woman, and she certainly learns a lot about herself in the jungle.
  • Cool Big Sis: Nsibidi to Zahrah.
  • Famed in Story: Zahrah, by the end, both in Ooni and in the jungle.
  • Framing Device: The book opens with a letter from Zahrah to the readers that she is going to tell the truth of what happened to her, not some tabloid we might have read.
  • Good Parents: Zahrah's parents are some of the few people who don't view their daughter as a freak, and they are very supportive of her.
  • Grandparental Substitute: Papa Grip is like a grandfather to Zahrah.
  • Humans Are White: Completely averted. Everyone in the story is black.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Zahrah is pretty firmly in this camp at the beginning of the story.
  • Loners Are Freaks: Zahrah faces this stereotype because she tends to be introverted and shy, which doesn't help her reputation for being weird.
  • The Lost Woods/Hungry Jungle: The Forbidden Greeny Jungle.
  • Meaningful Name: Nsibidi is named for an ancient Igbo writing system. She is one of few people who can read this language.
  • Misunderstood Loner with a Heart of Gold: The kids at school taunt Zahrah for being a witch who doesn't deserve the popular Dari for a friend, but when Dari gets bitten by a venomous snake Zahrah is the only one brave enough to try to save him.
  • Mixed Ancestry: Nsibidi's mother is from Earth.
  • No Antagonist: Zahrah goes off on quite the splendid adventure, but if she has an opponent it's a combination of the jungle and her people's ignorance.
  • No Periods, Period: Averted. Zahrah passes her menarche early in the book.
  • Power Tattoo: Nsibidi bears a tattoo showing her ability to read a dead magical language.
  • Puberty Superpower: Windseekers start to float around puberty.
  • The Quest: Zahrah ventures into the jungle for an unfertilized elgort egg.
  • Shout-Out: The article where Zahrah and Dari learn about windseekers mentions that the author's grandmother believed in "little blue men three apples high."
  • Title Drop: Zahrah the Windseeker becomes the title by which Zahrah is known in the jungle.
  • Walking the Earth: Nsibidi warns that all windseekers will give into the urge to do this sooner or later.

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