The Famished Road
The Famished Road is a novel written by Nigerian author Ben Okri. Published in 1991, the story of the novel follows Azaro, an abiku or spirit child, living in an unnamed, most likely Nigerian, city. The novel employs a unique narrative style incorporating the spirit world with the "real" world in what some have classified as magical realism. Others have labeled it African Traditional Religion realism. Still others choose to simply call the novel fantasy literature. The book exploits the belief in the coexistence of the spiritual and material worlds that is a defining aspect of traditional African life.
The Famished Road was awarded the Man Booker Prize for Fiction for 1991.
Azaro is an abiku, or spirit-child, from the ghetto of an unknown city in Africa. He is constantly harassed by his sibling spirits from another world who want him to leave this mortal life and return to the world of spirits, sending many emissaries to bring him back. Azaro has stubbornly refused to leave this life owing to his love for his mother and father. He is the witness of many happenings in the mortal realm. His father works as a labourer while his mother sells items as a hawker. Madame Koto, the owner of a local bar, asks Azaro to visit her establishment, convinced that he will bring good luck and customers to her bar. Meanwhile, his father prepares to be a boxer after convincing himself and his family that he has a talent to be a pugilist. Two opposing political parties try to bribe or coerce the residents to vote for them.
- Azaro is the story's narrator. He is an abiku, or a spirit child who has never lost ties with the spirit world. He is named after Lazarus, of the New testament. The story follows him as he tries to live his life, always aware of the spirits trying to bring him back.
- Azaro's father is an idealistic load-carrier who wants the best for his family and the community. He suffers greatly for this, eventually becoming a boxer and later a politician. Azaro's father loves him deeply, but is often bitter at having an abiku and occasionally goes on angry violent tirades.
- Azaro's mother works very hard selling anything she can get her hands on for the family. She cares for her family deeply and constantly gives up food and security for her family and their ideals. She is proud that Azaro is her son and goes to great lengths to protect him.
- Madame Koto is proprietress of a local bar. She has a liking for Azaro, though at times is convinced he brings bad luck. She starts out as a well-meaning woman, trying to get along with everyone else. However, as the story progresses, she becomes richer, siding with the political Party of the Rich, and is often accused of witchcraft. She tries to help Azaro and his family on numerous occasions but seems to try to take Azaro's blood to remain youthful.
- Jeremiah, the Photographer is a young artist who brings the village to the rest of the world and the rest of the world to the village. He manages to get some of his photographs published, but practices his craft at great personal risk.
- The Landlord supports the Party for the Rich and is angry with Azaro's family for causing troubles to him and his compound.
The novel was the inspiration behind the lyrics to Radiohead's single "Street Spirit (Fade Out)".
- Ben Okri discusses The Famished Road on the BBC World Book Club
- The Famished Road by Ben Okri, reviewed by Ted Gioia (The New Canon)
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