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The Famished Road

 
 
 
 
The Famished Road
Author: Ben Okri
ISBN 13: 9780385425131
ISBN 10: 385425139
Edition: Reprint
Publisher: Anchor
Publication Date: 1993-05-01
Format: Paperback
Pages: 512
List Price: $16.95
 
 

Set in an unnamed African country at an unspecified time (though the similarities with Nigeria in the early 1960s are unmistakable), The Famished Road is narrated by Azaro, an African spirit-child or abiku who, in the folklore of southern Nigeria, is destined to move continually between life and spiritual paradise in an unending cycle of infant death and rebirth. Azaro, however, is tired of never staying long enough to experience life, and decides on this occasion to remain, "to put", he says, "a smile on my mother's face".

Pursued by vengeful spirits, and endowed with special powers that lead him into mischief, Azaro introduces us to a whole world of wonders -- to his mother and father, an impoverished market trader and a load carrier struggling courageously to keep their dignity and their independence; to Madame Koto, the local bar owner whose journey from innocence to corruption mirrors the realities unfolding around her; to the politics, poverty and brutal reality of life in a shanty town in post-colonial Africa; and to Azaro's own intensely imagined visions. As political corruption becomes endemic and as old tribal traditions clash with the forces of urbanisation, the author shows us the extraordinary mix of hope and despair that characterises his community and the sheer vitality of a society where, as Okri has said, "the consequences of your actions are immediate and unavoidable".

Deftly mixing mythical visions with naturalistic portrayal, the result is a book of huge scope and originality which works on many levels -- as political parable, social critique, cultural guidebook and spiritual inspiration -- but whose central triumphis its depiction of tight-knit family relations and the entrancing oddity of everyday life.

Publishers Weekly

Teeming with fevered, apocalyptic visions as well as harrowing scenes of violence and wretched poverty, this mythic novel by Nigerian short-story writer ( Stars of the New Curfew ) and poet Okri won the 1991 Booker Prize. The narrator, Azaro, is a spirit child who maintains his ties to the supernatural world. Possessed by `` boiling hallucinations, '' he can see the invisible, grotesque demons and witches who prey on his family and neighbors in an African ghetto community. For him (and for the reader), the passage from the real to the fantastic world is seamless and constant; many of the characters--the political thugs, grasping landlords and brutal bosses--are as bizarre as the evil spirits who empower them. In a series of vignettes, Azaro chronicles the daily life of his small community: appalling hunger and squalor relieved by bloody riots and rowdy, drunken parties; inhuman working conditions and rat-infested homes. The cyclical nature of history dooms human beings to walk the road of their lives fighting corruption and evil in each generation, fated to repeat the errors of the past without making the ultimate progress that will redeem the world. Okri's magical realism is distinctive; his prose is charged with passion and energy, electrifying in its imagery. The sheer bulk of episodes, many of which are repetitious in their evocation of supernatural phenomena, tends to slow narrative momentum, but they build to a powerful, compassionate vision of modern Africa and the magical heritage of its myths. (June)