Sunday, 4 May 2014


The Famished Road
  Ben Okri
                                         ISBN: 0-9-992930-9                                            

This book was the winner of the Booker Prize in 1991,

A tome of a book, it takes us to Nigeria, to a time when democratic (and I use that term lightly) government is on the horizon, and the demise of colonial power is imminent.  The tale takes us to rural countryside rather than the city, and concerns the young life of a boy and his upbringing within a poverty stricken background.
But this only describes a small part of the story; you see, our main protagonist, Azaro, is a ‘spirit child’. As such, he is a part of, and in direct conversation with the spirit world, who want him to return to their world, rather than remaining with his earthly parents. He has encounters at all sorts of times, generally within a forest environment and generally alone, only becoming aware of their importance as he gets older. His ability carries an aura, which can be seen, or felt, by one or two others as we go through the story.

So it seems that we have two complete stories threading through the book, with the spiritual encounters taking more prominence as the text continues. I think Okri uses this device to allude to the future for his country; the forests disappearing, the lives of people changing in future years. The real problem I had were the ‘other world’ parts, where monsters appeared, strange beings, spurting green blood one occasion and having several heads which all need to be chopped off...I’m sure you all get the idea. All this is great if you like that sort of thing, but I found myself starting to skip passages, at the risk of missing an important message for me, as a reader.  I found myself quite relieved each time that Azaro returned to the real life, and the history could continue; his hard working, drunken, violent father, his long suffering but loyal mother, and the landlady of the local bar, where Azaro found a sort of employment. While in the real world, fear of voting for the wrong party, the thugs, the politics and the abject poverty all come out of the pages to instil a powerful dread for the future of this family. In a non-committal fashion, the parties are known as the party for the rich and the party for the poor. The rich party offer all manner of glitter to the poor, and try to overtake the parish, and Azaro’s father chooses the party of the poor. The resulting conflict comes in many different guises. But, how will he resolve this?

I think the book could be a hundred pages shorter and the parts about the spirit world less frequent. However, overall, I am glad I read this book, even though it has been at a second attempt. Although it will not be the first book I pack for a stay on a desert island.

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