My current reading list is made up of books that have won the Booker Prize (the Man Booker prize). This prize is awarded each year for original novels published in the United Kingdom. You can read more about that here.
Ben Okri is the first Nigerian author to win the Booker prize with his work the Famished Road. My first impression of the book was, ‘where have you been all my life?’ The story begins on an imaginative note. It tests the boundary of your imagination as you follow the spirit child who has resolved to stop going back and forth between the land of the living and the land of the dead. Yet, he must live with the consequences of his seemingly whimsical decision.
At the end of the book, it so happens that it is the first of a trilogy (songs of enchantment and infinite riches are the other two books in the trilogy), one is left with no choice but to come to the conclusion some things were missing. As much as the story is centred around the life of an abiku*, it fails to link that the world of the dead to the world of the living. For instance what is the attraction in the land of the living for Azaro? It is expected that the setting of the book would transcend physical locations, yet we would have loved to see what Azaro’s life was like in the spirit world.
Ben Okri’s depiction of Azaro’s relationship, first as a child, and second as an abiku, with his parents in the world of the living is perfect. Each event strikes a chord for the reader. We are exposed to his propensity, as a child to get into trouble, to wander, get lost, get into trouble. We are exposed to the problems his being an abiku cause his parents.
Ben Okri’s ability to achieve the unadulterated depiction of the Nigerian political and social terrain in a work that has its origins and foundation on fantasy and magical realism is remarkable. Unfortunately, the narrative gets tiring at some point and it is a herculean task to turn to the next page, Azaro’s father’s boxing prowess notwithstanding. Ben Okri infects his character’s with life and they feel a lot like next door neighbours. He succeeds in using his characters to invoke emotions in the minds of his readers.
Somehow, the story doesn’t pull you in. It leaves you content with just hovering on the edge. Nevertheless, it is an enjoyable book, maybe not riveting, but definitely worthwhile.
*An abiku, according to the Yoruba myth, is a spirit child who undergoes several reincarnations as he alternates between the world of the dead and the living.