Book Review : The Famished Road : By Ben Okri

Azaro, a spirit child decides to fight to stay alive, and not succumb to the temptations that his spirit-companions lure him into to come back to the spirit world despite knowing about the pain that pervades the real world.

Azaro, a spirit child decides to fight to stay alive, and not succumb to the temptations that his spirit-companions lure him into to come back to the spirit world despite knowing about the pain that pervades the real world.

Azaro meaning ‘born to die’ has been born to his parents many a times only to die shortly after birth in order to fulfill a pact with his spirit companions to ‘return to the spirit world at the first opportunity’. But this lifetime is different.

In this lifetime Azaro wants to ‘make happy the bruised face of the woman who would become my mother’. Azaro decides to struggle against the collective wish of his spirit companions and stay on in the physical form.

However, Azaro still maintains his connections with the spirit world and oscillates dangerously between the two worlds. His companions try various tricks to bring him back to their world again. But each time they fail.

The book starts with the event of Azaro landing up at a crooked policeman’s and his wife’s home, who see their son in him.

Finally, his bereaved mother finds him and brings him back. Once he has settled into his own home, Azaro just observes the routine life of inhabitants of a ghetto in a poor part of Africa, and though he doesn’t have any friends in particular.

Into this bewildering life, Azaro brings a spirit-eye, around the corrupt policemen and market traders flit imps, ghosts and homunculi, demons and sad souls whom only he can see.

These spirit brothers tempt him to return to the world of the unborn, away from his hard-working parents and the mundane squabbles of political strife, caricatured here as a competition between “The Party of the Rich” and “The Party of the Poor”.

Within this story is woven the tale of an impoverished Africa, an Africa exposed to the turmoil of socio-political change.

An Africa that is hungry, tired and ill. The problems of the nation are highlighted across the narrative with direct reference as well as obscure symbolism: “They were afraid of me because of my different color” or “I saw the ghost forms of white men in helmets supervising the excavation of precious stones from the rich earth” or “the road was young but its hunger was old”.

The Famished Road was the first part of a trilogy, brought forward his distinctive brand of magical realism, but it also raised questions about some of the conventions of Anglo-African postcolonial writing.

Is the abiku a youthful spirit – a Pan who sees the world in its full strangeness and plenitude – or one of Nigeria’s displaced children, cut off from a culture far richer than the material world of his birth?

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