Book-The Famished Road
Published-March 14, 1991
Author –Ben Okri
I was born not just because I had conceived a notion to stay, but because in between my coming and going the great cycles of time had finally tightened around my neck. I prayed for laughter, a life without hunger, I was answered with paradoxes. It remains an enigma how it came to be that I was born smiling -Azaro
The Famished Road takes on the luster of myth at its opening, and then shifts between fantasy and realism through most of its chapters. From Deformed one-eyed monsters, forest spirits, strange creatures pouring themselves palm-wine from calabashes, to near death experiences, this book has it all.
I never believed in the notion of reincarnation, “Abiku”, I mean, how can someone be born, die, only to be reborn again? For some reason I still do not believe in it, but now I have a better understanding through Ben Okri’s the Famished Road.
Azaro’s parents knew their child had a precarious hold on life and that he may return at any moment to the realm of the spirits so they did all they could to keep him alive. His father worked carrying heavy loads in the market place returning home bent and exhausted, while his mother worked peddling goods, making so little from the venture.
They virtually lived from hand-to-mouth, but bore the cost of keeping their child with them by paying for various ceremonial celebrations of recoveries for him.
From the very first page, I was completely drawn into plot; it felt like I was going through the journey with Azaro. I ran with him as double headed monsters chased him through the forest, drank palm wine with him as he sat in Madam Koto’s shop and even ate the party rice at their stuffed parlor when his parents had all the neighbours for a feast.
The famished road goes beyond the physical into the spiritual world. From seeing strange creatures, hearing them, deaths, agonies, acute hunger, extreme poverty, sounds of laughter from impoverished people to reversal of fortune, it goes way deeper than anything I have ever imagined.
While on this road, Azaro learnt to endure disease and death, sentencing him to a cycle of endless reincarnations and torture as he fought desperately against joining his peers in the other world due to the intense love for his mother. At one point, he was between life and death for two weeks, and awoke to find himself in a coffin as his parents had finally given up on him.
“The Famished Road” aptly tells the story of the hopelessness, desperation, war, political imbalance and poverty facing many developing countries. It is full of symbolism, but there is also a lot of humour (The fight amongst Azaro’s neighbours in the compound), some political satire (opposing political parties canvassing for votes) and vibrant characters like the powerful and strange bar owner, Madame Koto who was convinced that Azaro would bring good luck and customers to her bar.
The Famished Road is not your typical book and people have different opinions about it. Some have classified it as magical realism; others have called it African Traditional Religion realism while some chose to call it a fantasy literature. However for me, “The Famished Road” is an eye opener to the coexistence of the spiritual and material worlds, a defining factor of the traditional African life.
It was an amazing and scary read for me as I was tempted to drop it sometimes. However, I enjoyed it for its highly narrative style and will recommend it to everyone who is still confused about the myth of “Abiku.”