The Famished Road

( 14 )

Overview

In the decade since it won the Booker Prize, Ben Okri's Famished Road has become a classic. Like Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children or Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, it combines brilliant narrative technique with a fresh vision to create an essential work of world literature.

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 ...
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Overview

In the decade since it won the Booker Prize, Ben Okri's Famished Road has become a classic. Like Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children or Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, it combines brilliant narrative technique with a fresh vision to create an essential work of world literature.

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.

Winner of the 1991 Booker Prize

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Teeming with fevered, apocalyptic visions as well as harrowing scenes of violence and wretched poverty, this mythic novel by Nigerian short-story writer Stars of the New Curfew and poet Okri won the 1991 Booker Prize. The narrator, Azaro, is a spirit child who maintains his ties to the supernatural world. Possessed by `` boiling hallucinations, '' he can see the invisible, grotesque demons and witches who prey on his family and neighbors in an African ghetto community. For him and for the reader, the passage from the real to the fantastic world is seamless and constant; many of the characters--the political thugs, grasping landlords and brutal bosses--are as bizarre as the evil spirits who empower them. In a series of vignettes, Azaro chronicles the daily life of his small community: appalling hunger and squalor relieved by bloody riots and rowdy, drunken parties; inhuman working conditions and rat-infested homes. The cyclical nature of history dooms human beings to walk the road of their lives fighting corruption and evil in each generation, fated to repeat the errors of the past without making the ultimate progress that will redeem the world. Okri's magical realism is distinctive; his prose is charged with passion and energy, electrifying in its imagery. The sheer bulk of episodes, many of which are repetitious in their evocation of supernatural phenomena, tends to slow narrative momentum, but they build to a powerful, compassionate vision of modern Africa and the magical heritage of its myths. June
Sacred Fire
"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 famished road.

Henry Louis Gates
A dazzling achievement for any writer in any language. -- New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
Like one of those populous medieval paintings of the Last Judgment, the African ghetto of the Nigerian-born Okri (Stars of the New Curfew, 1989), winner of the 1991 Booker Prize, not only teems with lives and spirits both sacred and profane, but contains profound truths—all described in rich, often lyrical prose. The narrator of this tale of life in a ghetto on the eve of independence is Azaro, a "spirit-child" who belonged to a group of spirit children who did not look forward to being born: they "disliked the rigors of existence, the unfulfilled longings of the world, and the amazing indifference of the Living in the midst of the simple beauties of the universe." Tired of being born and dying so many times, Azaro chooses to live, perhaps "because I wanted to make happy the bruised face of the woman who would become my mother." And live he does, but his name Azaro/Lazarus is not coincidental: he is constantly battling disease, disaster, and the spirits who try to recapture him. The ghetto itself is a harsh world of endemic poverty, crime, and political chicanery as local bullies vie to establish their political factions. Hovering in the background is the mysterious but helpful photographer; the enigmatic and powerful Madame Koto; and the malevolent blind singer, as well as a slew of good and bad spirits. Meanwhile, Azaro's parents' lives are a constant struggle; but as the election nears, Azaro's father enjoys a brief success, and in a subsequent vision proclaims that life is a road we're building that does lead to death but also to "wonderful things" for "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." There isat last a moment of serenity, and Azaro savors the sweetness that has dissolved his fears: "I was not afraid of time." Long in the telling, like a great epic poem, Okri's tale is a beautifully rendered allegory, enriched by its African setting, of love powerful enough to defy even death and his minions.
From the Publisher
“A brilliant read, unlike anything you have ever read before…the message is universal.” — Philip Howard, The Times

“Okri is incapable of writing a boring sentence. As one startling image follows the next, The Famished Road begins to read like an epic poem that happens to touch down just this side of prose…. When I finished the book and went outside, it was as if all the trees of South London had angels sitting in them.” — Linda Grant, Independent on Sunday

“It is a rich, provocative and hopeful vision of the world, stuffed full of drama and surprise…. Its literary lineage — the ease with which spirits move through everyday life — is from ancient Greece and medieval romances.” — Robert Winder, Independent

“Overwhelming…just buy it for its beauty.” — Jenny Turner, New Statesman & Society

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385425131
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/28/1993
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 512
  • Sales rank: 406,720
  • Product dimensions: 5.18 (w) x 8.02 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Ben Okri was born in Lagos, Nigeria. He lives in London.

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Reading Group Guide

In the decade since it won the Booker Prize, Ben Okri's Famished Road has become a classic. Like Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children or Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, it combines brilliant narrative technique with a fresh vision to create an essential work of world literature.

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.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 14 )
Rating Distribution

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Sort by: Showing all of 14 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 17, 2003

    A Post-Colonial Wonder

    The opening line of The Famished Road explains, '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.' The Famished Road is an excellent book that shows a small abiku child literally and metaphorically caught between two worlds. He is caught between the world of the living, which he refers to as the world of illusion, and the spirit world. More than that, Azaro is caught between the fading old customs of Nigeria and the new modern world, the colonial British Empire and new Nigerian independence, and the harsh poverty of those around him, sharply contrasted by the riches of self-seeking politicians and peoples. The road in the novel is constantly devouring, yet never fulfilled, much like the characters that surround Azaro, the Nigerian politicians, the self-seeking upstarters, and poverty itself which is represented by the growing hunger of the road, as the forest recedes and poverty spreads. The road is the dilemma of post-colonial Nigeria. Azaro's spirit companions are constantly trying to bring him into the world of the spirits, so that he may escape the harshness of a reality that offers him pain and suffering. However, Azaro fights with the temptation to return to the spirit world through the love of his parents, which is a shelter and an amplifier of the real contrast of forces that move around him throughout the novel. Okri's use of language is vividly brilliant and magnetic, while the story is mesmorizing in it's lucid sadness and vague triumphs.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 10, 2012

    The book is entirely too long. After 140 pages of urinating, vom

    The book is entirely too long. After 140 pages of urinating, vomiting, and nighmarish hallucinations, I realized I had a lot left to read. This was not for me. Every 4-5 years I run into one of the award winners that defy any reasonable justification.

    Kudos to B&N for returning my money.

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  • Posted June 28, 2011

    Worst

    This is probably the worst book I have ever read. If you pick it up, be prepared for confusing, strange scenarios, unnecessary detail, and basically just meaningless dribble.

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  • Posted July 24, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Wonderful yet strange

    A young Nigerian boy named Azaro is caught between two worlds: the real world, and the spirit world he came from when he was born. He's in a constant struggle to keep his soul here in the real world, with the spirits trying to get him to join them again in their world. Azaro's real world family lives a hand-to-mouth existence, with his father doing manual labor jobs for very little money, and his mother peddling what cheap goods she can get ahold of. They live in a compound in the ghetto, and are often in conflicts with the neighbors and landlord because of the father's sometimes eratic behavior. Add to this political thugs, herbalists, boxers, beggars, witches, and other strange beings and you've got a rich and powerful story.

    This book is possibly one of the wierdest books I've ever read. I can't say I always understood it, but the journey through it and into Azaro's bizarro world made for some of the best reading I've had this year. I highly recommend this book for anyone who enjoys imaginative storytelling.

    Steeped in magical realism, it has everything from talking animals to dream adventures to witches and curses. The setting however is very grounded in reality, and it makes in interesting contrast to read about the fantastical creatures and then the ghetto finally getting electricity in the same chapter. The writing is wonderful; Okri has such a perfect way of expressing himself that it really makes the story come to life. Not a book I'll forget any time soon, I hope to read more by this talented author.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 18, 2007

    Famished Road

    The book was good if you like weird, trippy, stories. I liked what I read, it was hard to follow, but it keeps you thinking. I found Okri's analogies and metaphores kept me pretty absorbed in the book. Though a lot of the book was miserable, almost apocolyptic sounding, there was a still tranquility in Okri's narrations that always left an inspiring imprint. Some of the book, I could relate to on a spiritual level. All of the book was inspiring and beautiful. Truely a work of art.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 18, 2007

    Spirt Child

    Famished Road is sort of a sci-fi book because in this story a child known as an abiku child, an abiku child is a spirt that is caught in between two worlds. The world of the dead and the world of the living, in some ways he is much like the new seris ghost wisperer. He is among the living but can comunicate with the dead. Through out the book it explains how Azaro, deals with his spirt friends that haunt him for abandoning the spirt world. As he goes about living the spectors try to force him back to the spirt world, by death. Either making him very ill or banshee women carrying him off to sacrifice him to a goddess. But Azaro fights to live, and this book explains every detail in full. A well done job using the senses, but this book is not recommend for those with low patience. You have to fallow it very carefully in order to enjoy Azaro's jorney.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 17, 2007

    My Journey Through the Famished Road

    I had a great experience reading this novel.the stories in this book are interesting and made me want to continue reading it.there are so many details which i like because it expands my imagination and form that i can make a sort of film in my head. i recogmand this book to readers who like to picture and create a view from reading.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 17, 2007

    The Famished Road

    Hats off to Ben Okri for writing this stellar book about a spirit child who is caught between a median of life and death. Throughout the book he uses exceptional detail and vivid stories that make the mind unfold and imagination tingle. As you move closer and closer to the end of this novel you hear his stories and experiences through his contact with the dead. He describes in detail one story where he is taken in by a family who lost their son. At a dinner with them he sees miserable spirits around him and as he studies one of them in detail he notices that one of them is the families son. The son is badly injured in the face and looks depressed. This book is not for all ages for it experiments with the human mind and how it can interact with such a tragic and interesting storylines. There are many more interesting details that are mentioned throughout the story that will keep you wanting and questioning for more. Okri's amazing walkthroughs of the African bazaars and cities that the story guides you through provide a very potent sense of culture within the setting. Overall this is must read for any one who is looking for a vivid and descriptive novel that will send you on a literature journey.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 17, 2007

    The Famished Road

    Though I enjoy reading, this book was definitely a hard read. The book is a story of Azaro, a spirit child. Through the book we follow Azaro as he encounters some very odd sequences through his life, for he can see spirits, and sees weird humans and creatures. At first I found the book to be hard to follow, but then I did get more interested as it went along, the descriptions of the characters and scenes caught my mind. However, as I read on I lost a lot of interest, as it seemed to just be repetitive of him getting lost, and seeing peculiar spirits. It also began to seem random, and after the first few hundred pages, it was hard to follow. I probably would have never read this book had it not been assigned to me, it wasn't bad though, and I would recommend it to anyone who's interested in African culture, or spirits. The author did do a great job in thinking of odd characters for the book, but none of it really kept me wanting to read it, or not be able to put the book down. I did like the last few words of the book 'A dream can be the highest point of a life', and I think that is a lot of what the book is trying to tell you. I enjoyed the message of this book and learning more about African culture. If you want something different than any other book you've ever read, definitely pick this book up.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 17, 2007

    The Famished Reader

    although this book was stunningly descriptive and made me think about what each character was gong through,I had a hard time relating to any of the events in the book. this book uses very detailed descriptions about the world around azaro, 'the main char.' but often times i find it does not give very detailed information about the background or the vocabulary in used in the book. i recommend this book to someone who is interested in reading about strange and macabre stories staged in africa. If anyone wants to gain an understanding of african peasent life than this book shold give you wonderful insight. i enjoyed following azaro through all his adventures with the spirits and gained alot of expierience on how life really was, and still is, in Africa.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 17, 2007

    It was a very interesting book.

    I have to say, this book was by far the most unusual story I have ever read! The novel is narrated by a boy who lives in two separate worlds. One of the worlds is the present time while the other is a fantasy where many, many wierd things happen. For me, it was way to confusing! You could not figure out what world he was in at times unless it said, for example, 'the snake crawled up the bear and eventually did not eat it, but shared a meal with it.' -pg 141. If you're a reader who likes a tough read and can figure things out by using challenging context clues, this is the book for you. Otherwise, just say pass!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 19, 2007

    Reality sucks

    Famished road was an interesting but confuesing book. It had a lot to do with spirituality and Politics. The only parts of the book i liked was when Azaro the main character was sunk in his mind and the spirit world. The part when the book was about polotics and reality it became boring and i lost interest.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 14, 2008

    Confusion at it's best

    A famished Road shows you the life of the spirits and mind games i really did not like this book because of the constant confusion when i was in reading it.I would say if you have a short patience for a book than dont read this one.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 5, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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