The Famished Road is the story of a spirit child Azaro. Azaro meaning 'born to die' has been born to his parents many a times only to die shortly after birth in order to fulfill a pact with his spirit companions to 'return to the spirit world at the first opportunity'. But this lifetime is different. In this lifetime Azaro wants to 'make happy the bruised face of the woman who would become my mother'. Azaro decides to struggle against the collective wish of his spirit companions and stay on in the physical form. However, Azaro still maintains his connections with the spirit world and oscillates dangerously between the two worlds. His companions try various tricks to bring him back to their world again. But each time they fail.
Within this story is woven the tale of an impoverished Africa. Of an Africa exposed to the turmoil of socio-political change. An Africa that is hungry, tired and ill. The problems of the nation are highlighted across the narrative with direct reference as well as obscure symbolism: “They were afraid of me because of my different color” or “ I saw the ghost forms of white men in helmets supervising the excavation of precious stones from the rich earth” or “ the road was young but its hunger was old”.
Well, various historical, social and philosophical motifs have been touched upon in the book. Okri talks about the hypocrisy and corruption of politics, apartheid, slavery, the erosion of old cultures and values, the ills of poverty, the eternal cycle of life and death. All these themes together weave the complex narrative of Azaro's life.
The book has a very rich narrative style replete with evocative imagery, complex symbolism, dream sequences, and poetry. Consider this “I wanted the liberty of limitations, to have to find or create new roads from this one which is so hungry, this road of our refusal to be” or " these are the myths of beginnings. These are stories and moods deep in those who are seeded in rich lands, who still believe in mysteries."
The book makes a magical and delightful read but it must be conceded at the same time, that the large expanses of evocation sometimes lead the reader astray from the main story line. And when this happens a tad bit too often, the reader finds it marginally tiring.
The most notable feature of this book is the narrative style. It is unlike anything I have read so far. Okri uses the written word so effectively to make such an enjoyable read.
Having read 'Things Fall apart' by Chinua Achebe already, I was able to anticipate the theme and social/moral lessons that the author wanted to communicate. But what came as pleasant surprise was the way the entire story was conceived and narrated to communicate the authors ultimate message.
Book Reviewed by Ashmita Saha
Did you read this book too? Got an opinion on it? Share it!