The Famished Road

The Famished Road

by Ben Okri


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The Famished Road by Ben Okri

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385425131
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/28/1993
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 512
Sales rank: 249,408
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.84(d)

About the Author

Ben Okri's books have won several awards including the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Africa, the Paris Review Aga Khan Prize for Fiction and the prestigious International Literary Prize Chianti Rufino-Antico Fattore 1993. The Famished Road won the Booker Prize in 1991. He was born in Minna, Nigeria.

Reading Group Guide

1. The Famished Road is a novel that sets out, not to tell a conventional narrative, but to map and explain an entire way of life and an entire world view -- that of an Africa where myths are real, the dead are ever-present and the line between dream and reality is blurred. How important for Okri's purposes is the particular artistic style he has chosen for the book, a style that might be characterised as magical realism? What would you say are the main characteristics of this style?

2. The spirit-child is a central myth in Nigerian folklore, one who dislikes "the amazing indifference of the Living in the midst of the simple beauties of the universe" (p.3). Why does Okri choose to have a spirit-child as the narrator of his novel? Why a child? What does this spirit-child tell us about "the heartlessness of human beings, all of whom are born blind, few of whom ever learn to see" (p.3)? What does it say about Okri's own attitude towards spirituality and its relation to everyday life?

3. The Famished Road does not deal in conventional narrative sequence, and yet Okri is able to give the book a structure that allows the story to develop dynamically and purposefully. How does he do this? How does he create a balance between Azaro's visions and the naturalistic description of the settlement, between action set-pieces and scenes of more quiet contemplation? Does this balance help the flow of the novel?

4. Despite being 500 pages long, the novel has only four main characters - Azaro, his mother and father, and Madam Koto the bar owner. Does this emphasis on only four characters prove a help or a hindrance in the development of the book's story? How does Okri develop his individual characters? How important to the book's success is Azaro's relationship with his father?

5. Madame Koto undergoes a dramatic change in the course of the novel. Can you plot the development of that change? How far are the shifts in fortune that affect her and her bar, a metaphor for the wider changes affecting the country as a whole?

6. There are many instances in the book where Azaro's description of his father blur the line between myth and reality. On page 199, for instance, "a gentle wind" becomes "a dark figure, towering but bowed", before solidifying into Azaro's father. How does this affect our understanding of the character of Azaro's father? What does Okri wish us to see in him?

7. It becomes apparent in the course of the book that Azaro and his parents live in a country that has just freed itself from colonisation. What does Okri make clear are the legacies of this new-found independence? How far does he agree with the woman in the crowd who says: "This Independence has brought only trouble" (p.169)?

8. "Our old people are very powerful in spirit. They have all kinds of powers ... We are forgetting these powers. Now, all the power that people have is selfishness, money and politics" (p.70). How well does Azaro's father's description of the clash of old customers and the new politics of modernity fit with Okri's own opinion of the changes taking place? Can you chart those changes? How important to Okri is ritual and tradition?

9. "The world is full of riddles that only the dead can answer" (p.75). What does Okri mean by this phrase? Is he endorsing the importance of tradition? What does the sentence imply about the role and meaning of the spirits trying to lure Azaro back to paradise?

10. The Famished Road, or "the road of our lives" (p.180), is an ever-present image in the novel. What do you understand the famished road to mean? Is there any similarity between Okri's understanding of the famished road and, say, Ancient Greek ideas of fate?

11. Animals are ever-present in Azaro's narrative, particularly in his visions. Which are the animals that most commonly appear in these dreams? What purpose do they fulfil? If they are acting simply as metaphors, can you guess what they signify?

12. In one vision, Azaro sees the trees "running away from human habitation" (p.243). How does Okri characterise the growing urbanisation that takes place in the book? What is his attitude to it?

13. White men hardly make an appearance in the book, and yet their legacy seems pervasive. "They are greedy," says Azaro's mother. "They want to own the whole world and conquer the sun" (p.282). What references to white men can you find in the book? How is their legacy assessed by Okri?

14. Some critics have argued that the central strengths of The Famished Road lie less in Azaro's fevered visions than in the book's sympathetic portrayal of family ties and its naturalistic portrayal of ordinary African life. Do you judge Okri's use of Azaro's vision as successful or not?

15. "We are precious, and one day our suffering will turn into wonders of the earth" (p.338). "Our country is an abiku country. Like the spirit-child, it keeps coming and going. One day it will decide to remain" (p.478). Despite the suffering and corruption he depicts in the book, does Okri share the father's final optimistic vision?

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The Famished Road 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wonderful imagery
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
kren250 More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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!
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
puzzleman More than 1 year ago
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.
Fyre33 More than 1 year ago
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.