Thursday, 23 January 2020

The Famished Road by Ben Okri

The Famished Road by Ben Okri
Published in the UK by Jonathan Cape in 1991.

I registered my copy of this book at
One of my WorldReads From Nigeria

How I got this book:
I swapped for this book at a book exchange

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

‘So long as we are alive, so long as we feel, so long as we love, everything in us is an energy we can use’

The narrator, Azaro, is an abiku, a spirit child, who in the Yoruba tradition of Nigeria exists between life and death. He is born into a world of poverty, ignorance and injustice, but Azaro awakens 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. Despite belonging to a spirit world made of enchantment, where there is no suffering, Azaro chooses to stay in the land of the Living: to feel it, endure it, know it and love it. This is his story.

This review was first blogged at Stephanie Jane in October 2014.

It took me about 100 pages to really get into the language and style of The Famished Road as it is a very different book to anything else that I have read recently, if at all. Ben Okri's writing has an amazing fluidity that roams from harsh details of life in extreme poverty to incredible flights of surreal fantasy that left me amazed at how he invented such scenes. One one hand, not a lot happens in the novel. Azaro, a young boy whose eyes we see through, spends his time observing the adults around him, avoiding his drunken and abusive father, and hanging out in a local bar. Azaro is a spirit-child who has chosen to remain among humans, but is frequently contacted by bizarre apparitions who try to persuade him to die and, in so doing, come home.

Azaro's neighbours don't come out of the story well, being by turns greedy and grasping or opportunistic and selfish. The bar-owner, Madame Koto, aligns herself with local political heavies to become rich and powerful, also becoming fat and gout-ridden in the process. The rubbish-strewn street is frequently flooded and muddy, the rooms leak and are falling down, there is often not enough to eat and Azaro's mother especially works ridiculously long hours, yet there is always a strand of hope that makes what should be a depressing novel into an uplifting one.

I will criticise its length as the near 600 pages I think could have had more intensity if reduced to around 450. However, that aside, The Famished Road is a wonderful achievement of fantastic writing and magical surrealism.

Etsy Find!
by Culture And Things in
Pennsylvania, USA

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Books by Ben Okri / Coming of age fiction / Books from Nigeria


  1. Replies
    1. It's like an informal Little Library. Usually a shelf in a cafe or - as for this book - the work canteen. Bring a book you've read and swap it for another on the shelf.