Ben Okri’s The Famished Road

13Nov06

Just finished reading this absolutely lovely book. Thanks to Prat for lending me her copy and making me read it.

If there is one thing in life that continues to leave us puzzled beyond all our acquired wisdom – it is Life itself. Humans are born to, eventually, die. But despite this awareness and the multitude of sufferings and ugly paradoxes that often pushes one to the edge of his sanity, there develops a strange affection to the very activity of living. It’s one of those mystical allusions beyond the scope of any human wisdom.

Ben Okri’s 1991 Booker winner The Famished Road, is a metaphorical narrative of this strange affection, rich in symbolism and gripping imageries of a surreal reality. The story is narrated by Azaro – a spirit child, born into the painful world of Nigerian Parents and set to return to its spirit world very soon. His mother is a hawker screaming her soul out to make their ends meet, while his father labors in an equally appalling job.

Azaro is born as an Abiku – which means born to die in Yoruba. Okri makes his first emotional strike indicating the strange affection phenomenon, when he writes the words of Azaro as he is about to be born into his wretched world of poverty, hunger and struggling parents.

But sometimes I think it was a face that made me want to stay. I wanted to make happy the bruised face of the woman who would become my mother.

The story moves between Azaro’s adventures in the real world with his struggling parents and dirty politics, and another peculiar world limited to Azaro’s vision – Madame Koto’s palm wine bar, the (famished) road and the forest – which are crowded with spirits, and supernatural elements. Often it is Azaro’s visionary world that leads him through all the tribulations of the real world.

I began to feed on my hunger. I fed well and had a mighty appetite. I dipped into myself and found other worlds waiting… A world of famine, famishment and drought… I lost myself and felt myself becoming light. I listened to the music of famine.

Azaro’s spirit friends, repeatedly play tricks on him trying to lure him back to their spirit world. But Azaro manages to escape them every time until he finds the solemn serenity in the arms of his parents at the beginning of every night. Okri has created Azaro himself as a metaphor depicting the oxymoronic essence of the state of living, as he puts it beautifully,

Because each new generation begins with nothing and everything. They may not know that they know, but they do… They have an infinity of hope and an eternity of struggles.

With every reference to the surreal visions – many headed spirits, men with three eyes and sometimes just strange lights watching Azaro – Okri reiterates the circular nature of life – to suffer, to hope, to persist in hope and eternally condemned to repeat this cycle of imageries. The extensive imagery of Azaro’s supernatural visions tends to slow down the story for a wee bit, but only to build up into a powerful account that makes him not wanting to go back to his spirit world, and choosing to stay in his parents’ world of struggles.

There are many riddles amongst us that neither the living nor the dead can answer.

But riddles need not be answered to be enjoyed. And in the process of writing the story, Ben Okri has woven an intricate web of riddles rich in literary fervor, sure to captivate any reader drawing him into a sea of magnificent imageries. The Famished Road is a sheer literary delight that, in its inimitable style, sends out a strong message on the essence of living.

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46 Responses to “Ben Okri’s The Famished Road

  1. Exquisite, K. I am glad you enjoyed it.

  2. good review. seems like you are turning into a book worm these days

  3. Hi. Beautifully written review.

    I guess to sum up, the underlying philosophy (at least as I understood it) is–embrace reality, regardless of what reality might be…coz it’s the one true thing. The rest is escapism into a world of illusion or maya.

  4. 4 Kishore

    Prat,
    I really did. Thanks to you! :)

    San,
    Thanks. :)

    Aish L,
    Thanks. And you are spot on! It’s all bloody maya, as my friend tells me. :)
    Thanks for dropping by.

  5. now friend is officially wondering if she will see her copy of ben okri again :)
    i miss the old bugger. hurry up!

  6. 6 Kishore

    Here’s assuring friend that she’ll see her copy of ben okri soon enough.. sorry for the delay, I grind slow but sure! :)

  7. friend sleepy. but reassured. friend planning to hit tax on you. duty free tax. whatever thats supposed to mean.

  8. forgot to tell you. was reading some other African lit. Achebe I think where the concept of Abiku, spirit child, was so beautifully explained. made me ache.
    friend still sleepy. thinking about human rights for children in africa. now friend also sad.
    come back soon, S. your meetings taking too long.

  9. 9 Kishore

    Came back from meetings, I..
    Sweepy welly…

  10. 10 Ravenikka

    hi… wonderfully written review. :) You have a keen understanding of the novel and you were able to explicitly share it with us. Thank you… Hope to read more of your reviews. I’m currently reading The Famished Road as a required book report for school. I haven’t finished it yet, but your review made me want to read it closer. :) Thanks again and… have you considered being a book critic? :)

  11. 11 VanSamMat

    enjoyed review..a while since I read TFR..remember being drawn into portrayal of the tragic world from point of view of father and son..so much love, courage in the unspeakable world that is their daily life..universalizes the experience by not identifying the causes..the effects speak for themselves..all is connected.

  12. you know i once read Ben Okri’s book the Famished road and the sequel titled the Enchantment song about four years ago, and ever since that time i have a huge respect for him because not only does he go deep in the spiritual realm that when you read the book you keep on going back so that you make sure you are in the present/reality/physical world not in the spiritual dimensions of Azaro the spirit child. I would like to recommend a book by the name the Alchemist by Paol Coehlio not sure if i got the name correctly hope he wont mind as i am giving him free word of mouth referral advertising.He is a flipping good writer is an under statement, if you already read the book it is fine you can also read it again because as one of my friends put it, the alchemist is like the bible the kinda book you would love to read everyday.

  13. 13 temilade onafuwa

    reading the book: the famished road made me feel as if am in a dreaming state, i float on the surface of reality forgeting am still in this world thanks to my room mate who brouth me back to reality. well done ben okri

  14. 14 temilade onafuwa

    reading the book: the famished road made me feel as if am in a dreaming state, i float on the surface of reality forgeting am still in this world thanks to my room mate who brougth me back to reality. well done ben okri

  15. 15 jim 02014

    haven’t read a book but you guys leave me curious in reading it.i knew about it as i made research on my assignment

  16. 16 fatema master

    lovely review.. i am 200 hundred pages down ..n yes i would agree its quite a treat reading a book of this kind…

  17. Youre so cool! I dont suppose Ive read anything like this before. So nice to find somebody with some original thoughts on this subject.

  18. 18 Adex

    Hey, kudos for the gentle review! But the book is chosen to be studied in my university Lit. Reading it comprehensively is a little problem compare to getting a copy. Pls, can you mail me a more ‘advanced summary’ of it with details on: characterization,plot,settings,theme,technique,point of view et al. Thanks!
    From: OAU Ile-Ife Nigeria.
    eruditelovet@gmail.com

  19. 19 Adex

    Hi, we’re asked to study d book for Lit101course in my university. Can u pls ping a more comprehensive notes of d book!
    Thanks,
    ‘Tayo, OAU Ile-Ife Nig.
    Eruditelovet@gmail.com

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