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The Famished Road by Ben Okri

The Famished Road (1991)

by Ben Okri

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Azaro Trilogy (1)

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Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
I can't remember much of this book except that sleep is the perfect antidote to our problems. The world will always be better after a night's sleep - no problems are intractable. ( )
  siok | Sep 30, 2017 |
You are sucked into a magic dream, spirits floating in an African Hieronymus Bosch world. Also here the question - as in Victor Serge’s otherwise completely different story - how not to loose hope in the midst of despair. (VI-17) ( )
  MeisterPfriem | Jun 20, 2017 |
Review: The Famished Road by Ben Okri.

The story started out slow but when I understood what I was reading the words flowed amazingly throughout the book. It was well written and the mythology of legions and myths were written in a style of fictional fascinations and the uniqueness of sadness. After moving forward in the story it had the feel of a magical realism of imagery, comfort, and tranquility. A book of transparent emotions that I was felling brought me smoothly through all the prose style almost in a hovering state above what I was reading.

Ben Okri uses Azaro, a young spirited child as the narrator who lives the Yoruba traditions of Nigeria among the realism of life and death. Azaro foresees his life as the story is told with the bursting of sadness and tragedy. He relates back the realm of the dead and sometimes confronted with the realities and conflict among the land of the living. He is sometimes elated even though the violence and political struggles of Nigeria shadows the temptations of a carefree territory among the spirits. In reality Araro does choose to stay with his family through their struggles of impoverishment and the battle with the corrupt politicians that was beyond their control.

The people of the area live feeling the magic both real and imagined to uplift their lives and face the forces that make situations unalterable. Legions and myth becomes a sort of resistance against the political people who drive down their streets handing out poison milk to make the community sick but not killing them as a warning to vote for them.

The readers should be prepared for the interwoven anecdotes of personal stories that replicate life as they experience the deep sadness they hold in their memories. In the story one must stop disbelief to experience flexibility with Azaro’s accounts. Ben Okri vivid imagination is narrated at different levels of consciousness with antidotes written with some haunting from the dead, dreams that suggest transformations into creatures and dramatization surreal images, allegories, metaphors and symbolism. He left nothing out and created something close to realism…. ( )
  Juan-banjo | Apr 21, 2017 |
It’s been a while since I’ve read anything from my Booker Prize collection, so when Radio National chose Ben Okri’s The Famished Road (1991) for this month’s African Book Club, I decided to join in and resurrect my long-term The Complete Booker challenge.

I wasn’t sure that I was going to like The Famished Road because the novel was said to feature magic realism, and I’m not very keen on that, but it turned out that I liked the book very much – and I’m not so sure that I agree with labelling the book that way anyway. After all, if a spirit world is part of an author’s world view (or his characters’ worldview) and these spirits intervene in the life of the characters, how is that different to a writer writing about people invoking the intervention of some other deity? Would we call it magic realism if an event in a novel were attributed to the intervention of a Christian or Islamic god?

The world Okri creates in The Famished Road is utterly convincing. Azaro, the central character, is a spirit child, one usually destined to die young so that he can return to the more congenial spirit world. Our world, after all, is full of heartbreak and suffering:

There was not one among us who looked forward to being born. We disliked the rigours of existence, the unfulfilled longings, the enshrined injustices of the world, the labyrinths of love, the ignorance of parents, the fact of dying, and the amazing indifference of the Living in the midst of the simple beauties of the universe. We feared the heartlessness of human beings, all of whom are born blind, few of whom ever learn to see. (p.3)

To read the rest of my review please visit https://anzlitlovers.com/2016/09/27/the-famished-road-by-ben-okri/ ( )
  anzlitlovers | Sep 27, 2016 |
Have you ever thrown a book away in frustration, or been tempted to do so?

Some years ago I found a novel in the litter basket in the bathroom. It turned out this was a deliberate action by my husband to symbolise his anger with the book. I knew from his deep sighs over many nights that he hadn’t been enjoying it but I hadn’t realised it was so bad that he didn’t feel it was enough to put it into our pile for donation. Only the grand gesture would suffice for him. I’ve never felt compelled myself to actually throw a book away but I came oh so close with Ben Okri’s The Famished Road.image

I started reading this as part of my Booker Prize project. It wasn’t one I was particularly looking forward to starting but I’d had it for about three years and wanted to clear some space on the shelf. Since winning the prize in 1991, the novel has gained a reputation as a landmark work for creating a specific African version of magical realism. Some commentators have put it on a par with Salman Rushdie’s Midnights Children in terms of its importance. Okri exploits the African belief in the coexistence of spiritual and material worlds through his main character Azaro. He is an abiku or spirit child from the ghetto of an unnamed African city (most likely in Nigeria given Okri’s origins). Though he lives in the mortal world, his sibling spirits from the spiritual other world constantly harass him and send emissaries to try and get him to return to their world.

My tolerance for magical realism isn’t high at the best of times but I did manage to get to the end of two other Booker winners that use this technique, Midnights Children and The Bone People. At least they were well written. The same cannot be said about Mr Okri.

The first sentence was a warning of what I could expect through more than 500 pages.

In the beginning there was a river. The river became a road and the road branched out to the whole world. And because the road was once a river it was always hungry.

I suppose this was meant to be lyrical, mysterious even. To me it read like a bad pastiche of the beautiful opening of Genesis. Nonsensical too. How could a river become a road unless it was diverted and then engineers constructed a road following the original path. But then why would a river be hungry and for what? A Big Mac maybe?

What followed wasn’t much better. When Okri wasn’t throwing things at us that I suppose he thought would be magical, mysterious and hence wonderful, he gave us pedestrian narrative of the “I did this. Then I did that” style. After 80 pages and with the knowledge of hundreds left to read, I abandoned the book. The Booker judges clearly were mesmerised by this, but this is one reader who was left decidedly unenchanted. ( )
  Mercury57 | Aug 21, 2016 |
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Ben Okriprimary authorall editionscalculated
Vooren, MarthaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To Grace Okri, my mother and friend:
And to Rosemary Clunie
First words
In the beginning there was a river. The river became a road and the road branched out to the whole world. And because the road was once a river it was always hungry. In that land of beginnings spirits mingled with the unborn. We could assume numerous forms. Many of us were birds. We knew no boundaries. There was much feasting, playing, and sorrowing. We feasted much because of the beautiful terrors of eternity. We played much because we were free. And we sorrowed much because there were always those amongst us who had just returned from the world of the Living. They had returned inconsolable for all the love they had left behind, all the suffering they hadn't redeemed, all that they hadn't understood, and , and for all that they had barely begun to learn before they were drawn back to the land of origins. There was not one amongst us who looked forward to being born. We disliked the rigours of existence, the unfulfilled longings, the enshrined injustices of the world, the labyrinths of love, the ignorance of parents, the fact of dying, and the amazing indifference of the Living in the midst of the simple beauties of the universe. We feared the heartlessness of human beings, all of whom are born blind, few of whom ever learn to see.
It is more difficult to love than to die. It is not death that human beings are most afraid of, it is love. The heart is bigger than a mountain. One human life is deeper than the ocean. (p. 498)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0385425139, Paperback)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:04 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

The narrator, Azaro, is an abiku, a spirit child, who in the Yoruba tradition of Nigeria exists between life and death. The life he foresees for himself and the tale he tells is full of sadness and tragedy, but inexplicably he is born with a smile on his face. Nearly called back to the land of the dead, he is resurrected. But in their efforts to save their child, Azaro's loving parents are made destitute. The tension between the land of the living, with its violence and political struggles, and the temptations of the carefree kingdom of the spirits propels this latter-day Lazarus's story.… (more)

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