Official Synopsis from Amazon: 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.
Genre: Literature, Fantasy, Magical Realism, African Literature
Setting: A small town in Nigeria
***I received an eARC copy of The Famished Road from Open Road Integrated Media via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.***
Since this was a book initially published in 1991, I’ve decided to use some quotes here in my review. I know that generally speaking, we aren’t supposed to use quotes for ARC reviews, but I figured it was okay since this book has been previously published.
Review: Beautiful and unique. I appreciated it, but I didn’t love everything about it.
The Famished Road is a powerful tale that is told through the point of view of Azaro, a young boy who is an abiku, or, a “spirit child”. Azaro is a compelling narrator; he sees reality and can also see magical beings. So there is an element of magic and fantasy in this book that was interesting to read.
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.
I admit to skimming through some of the more fantastical scenes. They just seemed to be overly long and while they were interesting and sometimes grotesque to read, they didn’t really seem to sway the plot in any way, so once I realized that I tended to skim those parts of the book. But then I’d be skimming and read something interesting and then go back and have to re-read.
Her sigh was full of despair, but at the bottom of her lungs, at the depth of her breath’s expulsion, there was also hope, waiting like sleep at the end of even the most torrid day.
The stronger part of the novel lies in the reality sections involving Azaro and his relationship with his parents. Azaro’s parents are thrust into poverty, and it was fascinating and horrific to read of their struggle to survive day after day. Ben Okri’s writing is so well done in describing the poverty of Azaro’s family, and the surrounding people. There is heaviness to the writing, heaviness to the weight of poverty crushing the people in the story. It was heartbreaking to read about.
Does this life not move you? When you play in the streets and see the children die, and hear the mothers weep, and hear the old ones sing of each miraculous birth, is your heart untouched? We have sorrow here. But we also have celebration. We know the special joys. We have sorrow, but it is the sister of love, and the mother of music.
Besides Azaro and his parents, the other major character is Madame Koto, a bar owner who starts off as friendly and kind, but gradually money and power changes her as she starts to add prostitution to her bar and also aligns with the political thugs in the area. I liked reading about Madame Koto. Her change is gradual and sad, and is a testament to how wealth changes people. Her character was interesting to read, as while she isn’t truly all that likeable, she is fascinating.
The other character that I really liked reading was that of Azaro’s father, who calls himself Black Tyger. A boxer with a dream, he wastes what little money his family has on drink, but he has a determination to survive and will do what needs to be done for his family in certain times. He eventually winds up getting involved with politics, and there are some political plotlines here in regards to “The Party of the Poor” vs “The Party of the Rich”. Black Tyger has some of the more philosophical lines of the book, and I was interested in his story and his fate.
People who use only their eyes do not SEE. People who use only their ears do not HEAR. It is more difficult to love than to die. It is not death that human beings are most afraid of, it is love. The heart is bigger than a mountain. One human life is deeper than the ocean.
The Famished Road is definitely a story that you need to sit and contemplate while reading and after you finish it. There are philosophical sections that I enjoyed reading immensely, much more than the magical mystical sections, and overall this was a beautifully lyrical book that I really enjoyed reading. Definitely recommended to those who enjoy reading literature and books that require thought.
Bottom Line: Beautiful and unique, with a magical feel that drags in places. I rated The Famished Road four stars on Goodreads.
What do you think of The Famished Road? Do you enjoy reading magical realism? Does this sound like a book that you’d enjoy?