Most Americans may remain, for the moment, unfamiliar with the Nigerian-born author Ben Okri who now makes his home in England, but his reading audience worldwide is one that continues to grow even as he continues to publish commanding works in different genres. It helps as well that his profile has become a familiar one on such social networks as Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter.
To date, Okri has published some ten books of fiction in the form of novels and novellas, two collections of essays, two collections of short stories, and two volumes of poetry. Those following him on Twitter occasionally are treated to excerpts of tweeted lines from a given poem, such as these from As Clouds Pass above Our Heads:
“We can wake to the power of our voice
Change the world with the power of our choice.
But there is nothing we can do
If we don’t begin to think anew.”
A Writer’s Journey Begins
Readers began to track Okri’s literary oeuvre with the publication of his first novel, Flowers and Shadows in 1980, and he kept their attention after publishing The Landscapes Within in 1981. However, it was The Famished Road , published ten years later in 1991, that won Okri the much-coveted Booker Prize for Fiction and placed him on the same literary A-list as such world-class talents as Salman Rushdie, Toni Morrison , Alice Walker, and Cormac McCarthy.
The Famished Road is exceptional in its treatment of fiction as a study of both istory and prophecy. Through the eyes of Okri’s child-hero, Azaro (an abbreviation of Lazarus) readers enter an African community coming to terms with that crossroads known as change.
Azaro is an abiku, or “spirit-child” who has a keen eye for both the natural and the supernatural. Or, as the author put it: “The spirit-child is an unwilling adventurer into chaos and sunlight, into the dreams of the living and the dead… They all yearn to make of themselves a beautiful sacrifice, a difficult sacrifice, to bring transformation, and to die shedding light within this life… I was a spirit-child rebelling against the spirits, wanting to live the earth’s life and contradictions.”
Moreover, like another boy-hero in the famed Calvin san Hobbes comic strip, he’s prone to wandering roads of the imagination which constantly lead him in body, mind, and spirit away from the safety of his parents’ protection. Although a child, Azaro’s dilemma is one easily worthy of any of Shakespeare’s great characters. His struggle to resist the pull of spirits who would lead him back into their world is equal to his battle against the more material forces of poverty, disease, and corruption. Never-ending hunger (for food as well as peace), crooked politicians handing out poisoned milk, frozen-hearted landlords and old men prone to evil make Azaro’s grip on physical reality at best, tenuous.
In his love for his mother, Azaro finds reason enough to remain in the material world, though it‘s often painful to witness and endure her laments: “A woman suffers, a woman sweats, with no rest, no happiness… This life is too much for me.” His father is a fighter whose battles force him to the brink of death, but who ultimately triumphs in body and spirit. He coaxes his son back from realms of death by singing to him visions of life: “I see great happiness in our future… 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.”
PLEASE CLICK FOR: Ben Okri’s Famished Road Leads to Thrilling Adventures in Reading Part 2