Thursday, November 6, 2014

Book Review: The Famished Road by Ben Okri

Azoro, a young protagonist of this novel, was happy being a spirit. Though he is born several times, he quickly left the bodies he was trapped into, to return to the happy world of spirits causing pain to many mothers in the process. But now he is born again and wants to live longer as a human being but he is not cut-off from his connections to the world of spirits. He sees the spirits all over the place, every day. He does not reveal this to his parents and buries it within him as he is not interested in isolating from spirits either. He is a child who did not want to be born and does not to die soon.

Azoro is the only child to his poor parents living in Africa. His father looks for work on daily basis as a load carrier and his mother sells grocery in the local market to earn their living. There is a bar in the neighborhood run by Madame Koto. The entire neighborhood, except Azoro’s parents is scared of Madame Koto as they believe she is a witch. Madame Koto is kind towards Azoro and she thinks he brings good luck to her if he sits in her bar and can attract customers. While sitting in her bar, Azoro learns that majority of the customers visiting the bar are not human beings but the spirits and demons in their borrowed human bodies in the ugliest forms. All of those spirits are interested in taking Azoro back to their world and make many attempts to pack him up and carry. But the determined boy, escapes every time and finds way to back to his home.

Other characters, incidents and narrations like the rage of Azoro’s father, helplessness of his mother, the photographer, the elections, the creditors of his father fill up the pages to bring African life into this book but the main theme remains the young boy’s encounters with the spirits. The story does not conclude in this book as it continues in two more books making it a trilogy.

This is one of the unusual themes I have come across. It is creative and imagination running wild. The first five pages of this book convinced me that the life of spirits would be more joyous than life as human beings. But the later pages are filled with horror and descriptions of spirits and demon in their ugliest forms which are capable enough to give nightmares to the readers. I see that in India as well, there are many famished roads, thirsty for blood. But the difference is I do not get to see the spirits and demons. I am happy I am not Azoro.

This book won The Booker prize for its author Ben Okri in 1991. This book has all the ingredients to become a good graphical novel if no one has thought about it. And that way it can reach a different genre of readers who prefer it read it graphically than immerse into a 500+ page novel like this.