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The Famished Road Paperback – May 1, 1993
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You have never read a novel like this one. Winner of the 1991 Booker Prize for fiction, The Famished Road tells the story of Azaro, a spirit-child. Though spirit-children rarely stay long in the painful world of the living, when Azaro is born he chooses to fight death: "I wanted," he says, "to make happy the bruised face of the woman who would become my mother." Survival in his chaotic African village is a struggle, though. Azaro and his family must contend with hunger, disease, and violence, as well as the boy's spirit-companions, who are constantly trying to trick him back into their world. Okri fills his tale with unforgettable images and characters: the bereaved policeman and his wife, who try to adopt Azaro and dress him in their dead son's clothes; the photographer who documents life in the village and displays his pictures in a cabinet by the roadside; Madame Koto, "plump as a mighty fruit," who runs the local bar; the King of the Road, who gets hungrier the more he eats.
At the heart of this hypnotic novel are the mysteries of love and human survival. "It is more difficult to love than to die," says Azaro's father, and indeed, it is love that brings real sharpness to suffering here. As the story moves toward its climax, Azaro must face the consequences of choosing to live, of choosing to walk the road of hunger rather than return to the benign land of spirits. The Famished Road is worth reading for its last line alone, which must be one of the most devastating endings in contemporary literature (but don't skip ahead). --R. Ellis
"A dazzling achievement for any writer in any language."
--Henry Louis Gates, Jr., The New York Times Book Review
"A mesmerizing vision of modern Nigeria, seen through the eyes of a peculiarly sentient child…. The Famished Road is a quintessential African novel.”—The Philadelphia Inquirer
“A stunning work, suspenseful and haunting, the product of one of the lushest imaginations on record.”—The Plain Dealer
"A masterpiece if one ever existed."
--The Boston Globe
"Dazzling, hypnotic...a true feast for the word hungry."
--San Francisco Chronicle
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This is one of those books that I didn’t particularly enjoy reading, and yet, I couldn’t stop thinking about it and talking about it. I greatly enjoyed the use of metaphor in this novel. The Famished Road, is a metaphor for the country’s road to independence – it hungrily eats away at the past, and leaves many casualties in it’s wake.
The problem I have with many prize-winning novels, is that they are often missing the one component which would lift them to five star status: a riveting story with characters a reader can care about. The spirit-world gimmick certainly has its place in this book, but at times it takes over and it is one of the reasons why The Famished Road is about 200 pages too long.
Reading this book made me feel so exultant---it affirmed everything I believe, that love and beauty and joy are the reasons for living---that I handed out copies to everyone I knew who enjoyed reading (it's a long book, and not an "easy" read, but the language is exquisite). I was so filled with joy that I wanted them to share it, too.
Then the weirdest thing happened: THE BOOK ACTS AS A MIRROR. It strongly moved everyone who read it, but apparently you take from it what you bring to it. I don't know how this magic works, but it seems that the message you respond to in the book is the message that your soul is attuned to.
My environmentalist friend, for instance, was appalled at the destruction of the land; she saw nothing beautiful in the book. The friend who'd lost her mother was so moved by emotion about mothers and children that she took to bed for two days. The adoption-agency friend was angry about the plight of the children. The egocentric friend never saw any further than the surface of the plot line about power. The friend who tends toward the paranoid talked for weeks about alternate motivations for the characters. The adventurer friend was inspired to visit Africa again. And on and on.
I couldn't believe it. What I had thought was a beautiful, heart-filling affirmation of love and beauty and joy in the everyday, no matter what the circumstances, turned out to be a message only I was hearing. The book seems to reveal or affirm its readers' personalities in ways I and they didn't expect.
I've reread The Famished Road several times now, and it still resonates as strongly as the first time, from the very first line. One quick excerpt to give you the flavor: "My son, there is a wonderful wind blowing in my mind. I drank the moon tonight. The stars are playing on a flute. The air is sweet with the music of an invisible genius. Love is crying in my flesh, singing strange songs. The rain is full of flowers and their scent makes me tremble as if I am becoming a real man. I see great happiness in our future. I see joy. I see you walking out of the sun. I see gold in your eyes. Your flesh glitters with the dust of diamonds. I see your mother as the most beautiful woman in the world."
This book is so rich with hope and so full of beauty that it makes me weep.
Ben Okri, you are a genius. Thank you.
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