Prime The Famished Road – Andy-palmer.co.uk


The Famished Road In the decade since it won the Booker Prize, Ben Okri s Famished Road has become a classic Like Salman Rushdie s Midnight s Children or Gabriel Garcia Marquez s One Hundred Years of Solitude, it combines brilliant narrative technique with a fresh vision to create an essential work of world literatureThe narrator, Azaro, is an abiku, a spirit child, who in the Yoruba tradition of Nigeria exists between life and death The life he foresees for himself and the tale he tells is full of sadness and tragedy, but inexplicably he is born with a smile on his face Nearly called back to the land of the dead, he is resurrected But in their efforts to save their child, Azaro s loving parents are made destitute The tension between the land of the living, with its violence and political struggles, and the temptations of the carefree kingdom of the spirits propels this latter day Lazarus s story Oh my dear lord, how I hated The Famished Road Friends don t let friends read this book I only finished it because I was trekking in Nepal with no alternative English language book for miles upon miles In my personal hell, this is the only book in the library. This book almost broke me and ate me.I went to bed after reading the first twenty pages of it and I dreamt about chasing an antelope with a broken horn which jumped out the window I, in turn, was being chased by a wild boar covered in blood which spoke in a human voice There was also a flying carpet.I don t really like magical realism but this book didn t care I was gonna have it whether I liked it or not It swept me away before I knew it By the end of it I would read about a man who slept This book almost broke me and ate me.I went to bed after reading the first twenty pages of it and I dreamt about chasing an antelope with a broken horn which jumped out the window I, in turn, was being chased by a wild boar covered in blood which spoke in a human voice There was also a flying carpet.I don t really like magical realism but this book didn t care I was gonna have it whether I liked it or not It swept me away before I knew it By the end of it I would read about a man who slept for two months and not bat an eye Only a little later I would think wait a minute, people can t sleep for two months straight That s not possible, they have to eat and stuff As any other book of magical realism The Famished Road is elliptical The characters go through a never ending cycles of death and rebirth It suits so well the postcolonial literature of Africa and Latin America because it represents the hopelessness and desperation of poverty and mirrors the situation of these fairly new countries that always seem to be going back to square one It s a never ending struggle of the same eternal forces that always seems to end in a draw.This is really the story that Azaro, the so called spirit child tells us He is a child who doesn t want to stay on this Earth and longs for death He constantly fights the desire to join his companions from the spirit world It s only the love of his mother that keeps him fighting back this temptation It takes him about 500 pages to finally develop a hunger for life even in this miserable postcolonial reality The book is full of symbolism as you would expect but there is also a lot of humour, some political satire and vibrant characters like the powerful bar owner Madame Koto It s beautifully written and it is hypnotic It is also heart breaking and devastating And yes, it could be easily at least 200 pages shorter, but I enjoyed reading it even if it left me drained and hallucinating I wanted it to end and I didn t want it to end.I realise it is a love it or hate it kind of book and frankly I don t mind if you hate it I feel very possessive and jealous about it.The only reason I haven t given it five stars is because I don t see myself rereading it It would probably drive me mad They wanted to know the essence of pain, they wanted to suffer, to feel, to love, to hate, to be greater than hate, and to be imperfect in order to always have something to strive towards, which is beauty They wanted also to know wonder and to live miracles Death is too perfect The road thirsts for libations of blood and tears and sucks into its inescapable vortex, parables of imperialist avarice and remnants of broken dreams It cuts across the acropolis of untold agonies, eavesdropping o They wanted to know the essence of pain, they wanted to suffer, to feel, to love, to hate, to be greater than hate, and to be imperfect in order to always have something to strive towards, which is beauty They wanted also to know wonder and to live miracles Death is too perfect The road thirsts for libations of blood and tears and sucks into its inescapable vortex, parables of imperialist avarice and remnants of broken dreams It cuts across the acropolis of untold agonies, eavesdropping on circular conversations, witness to the absurd manoeuvrings of the Party of the Rich and the Party of the Poor , audience to the familiar hysterics of Azaro s mum and Madame Koto ruing deaths and reversals of fortune, to the sounds of laughter and merriment emanating from the mass of rowdy gatherings, winding its way in and around the heart of an anonymous African nation submerged in the septic pool of third world squalor and privations.The road accompanies Azaro, his mum and dad on their unending excursions into realms known and unknown transporting them across the rim separating reality and illusion, reinstilling in them a desire for the sweet torment of mortal life as opposed to the calm inviolate certainty afforded by the dimension of spirits Unspooling like an exponentially lengthening thread, the road girds itself around all human conflict past, present, and future The road is human history itself, a ravenous beast intent on devouring existential agonies, grief, bitterness, hope, happiness, and ambition, crushing penury and incertitude and spitting back monstrosities that ravage and soothe in turn The road teaches the abiku child to endure disease and death, condemning him to a cycle of endless reincarnations till a time comes when all historical wrongs will be rectified They keep coming and going till their time is right There is a reason Marquez and Rushdie have sought magical realism as their preferred facade to convey the truth of a reality that is too multitudinous and immense to be grasped all at once Like Rushdie s India and Marquez s Macondo, Okri s phantasmagorical dystopia reflects the real in the surreal, alluding to multifarious truths through strategically positioned symbols and metaphors Deformed one eyed monsters, forest spirits, homunculi and humans rendezvous while pouring themselves palm wine from calabashes, characters drift in and out of dreams with the ease of changing trains at a station, life becomes an interminable travesty of farcical repetitions interspersed with brief interludes of small triumphs and bigger setbacks Near death experiences, disease, natural calamities, political unrest keep making reappearances like unwanted guests The stink of hunger and need cling to the community like a persistent shadow But in this black hole of innumerable woes, the love of home and family becomes a placebo assuaging the pain of small everyday injustices Okri writes with the full knowledge that ghetto life in the third world is a prolonged, futile battle against countless indignities and yet this same life is never bereft of a hopeless kind of joy I wanted the liberty of limitations, to have to find or create new roads from this one which is so hungry, this road of our refusal to be I was not necessarily the stronger one it may be easier to live with the earth s boundaries than to be free in infinity It might be easy to dismiss this as an exercize in trotting out a one trick pony But a littleeffort yields a magnificent view through the gauzy mesh of short, stumpy sentences that proliferate to create a unique kind of prose poetry generously offering a multisensorial experience for the reader One can glimpse the astounding beauty of a world combating ugly realities at every turn with humour and an understated bravery The snippets of wisdom dispersed unevenly between the arrays of grotesquely beautiful images, despite their garb of a seemingly simplistic idiolect, jolt one into a renewed awareness of their import He saw the world in which black people always suffered and he didn t like it The beauty of this work overwhelmed my senses in ways I cannot properly express The colonizer s language you see Sometimes it can be strangely disempowering despite affording its users with currency Yet the Arundhati Roys and the Amos Tutuolas and the Ngugi wa Thiong os have subverted the conventions of this very English to carve out their own englishes because a writer needs a newer breed of language to broadcast the fact of less popularized truths Okri has managed to do just that with elan And it s time the erstwhile empire writes back to address that which has still remained unaddressed and underrepresented in world literature In the diction of its preference no story could ever be finished. Just didn t feel the love for this I hate long accounts of dreams in novels and magical realism can be like reading an endless succession of dreams I like the laws of gravity to hold fast in the novels I read so this started off at a big disadvantage where my reading preferences are concerned One of the few novels I ve ever failed to finish is

  • Paperback
  • 512 pages
  • The Famished Road
  • Ben Okri
  • English
  • 06 April 2019
  • 0385425139

About the Author: Ben Okri

Poet and novelist Ben Okri was born in 1959 in Minna, northern Nigeria, to an Igbo mother and Urhobo father He grew up in London before returning to Nigeria with his family in 1968 Much of his early fiction explores the political violence that he witnessed at first hand during the civil war in Nigeria He left the country when a grant from the Nigerian government enabled him to read Comparative Literature at Essex University in England He was poetry editor for West Africa magazine between 1983 and 1986 and broadcast regularly for the BBC World Service between 1983 and 1985 He was appointed Fellow Commoner in Creative Arts at Trinity College Cambridge in 1991, a post he held until 1993 He became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1987, and was awarded honorary doctorates from the universities of Westminster 1997 and Essex 2002.His first two novels, Flowers and Shadows 1980 and The Landscapes Within 1981 , are both set in Nigeria and feature as central characters two young men struggling to make sense of the disintegration and chaos happening in both their family and country The two collections of stories that followed, Incidents at the Shrine 1986 and Stars of the New Curfew 1988 , are set in Lagos and London.In 1991 Okri was awarded the Booker Prize for Fiction for his novel The Famished Road 1991 Set in a Nigerian village, this is the first in a trilogy of novels which tell the story of Azaro, a spirit child Azaro s narrative is continued in Songs of Enchantment 1993 and Infinite Riches 1998 Other recent fiction includes Astonishing the Gods 1995 and Dangerous Love 1996 , which was awarded the Premio Palmi Italy in 2000 His latest novels are In Arcadia 2002 and Starbook 2007 A collection of poems, An African Elegy, was published in 1992, and an epic poem, Mental Flight, in 1999 A collection of essays, A Way of Being Free, was published in 1997 Ben Okri is also the author of a play, In Exilus In his latest book, Tales of Freedom 2009 , Okri brings together poetry and story.Ben Okri is a Vice President of the English Centre of International PEN, a member of the board of the Royal National Theatre, and was awarded an OBE in 2001 He lives in London.


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