"To be born is to come to the world weighed down with strange gifts
of the soul with enigmas and an inextinguishable sense of exile."
Azaro, or Lazarus, is among a group of spirit-children reluctant to be born, tired of the constant cycle of birth and
death, and the banality of the lives in between. Eventually, Azaro
decides to once more allow himself to be born, reneging on his
pact with his fellow spirits, but then lives his life straddling the
physical and spiritual worlds, outwitting spirits who wish to
reclaim him and dodging the pitfalls of his teeming Nigerian
village compound on the eve of independence. Ben Okri's startlingly inventive writing is richly lyrical and filled with hallucinatory images of both the magical spirit world and the equally
bizarre, and often grotesque, physical world.
Azaro is born into a village stricken with poverty, disease, and
disaster and filled with political intrigue. The Famished Road is a
series of tales that captures Azaro's enchanted world: the corrupt
politicians, his besieged family, encircling malevolent and benevolent spirits, and the daily goings-on of his neighbor, all of which
he recounts in florid language. This celebration, held at the local
bar, is viewed through the eyes of the young Azaro: "The men
danced tightly with the women. Everyone sweated profusely. The
women twisted and thrust their hips at the men. . . . One of
the women was practically cross-eyed with drunkenness. A man
grabbed her around the waist and squeezed her buttocks. She
wriggled excitedly. The man proceeded to grind his hips against
hers as if he didn't want the slightest space between them. The
woman's breasts were wet against her blouse." What follows is
a hilarious and masterful use of denouement, as pandemonium
ensues, dampening both the evening and libidos.
About halfway through, readers may be startled, finding themselves no longer reading The Famished Road but listening to it...
even watching it. And Azaro's father, the Black Tyger, is an event
unto himself. Ben Okri, recipient of Great Britain's prestigious
Booker Prize for his work in The Famished Road, creates an allegory of life whereby a river becomes a road that swallows its
travelers, as life, voracious and unsated in its hunger, overwhelms
and swallows those who travel its road. Life, proposes Okri, is a