I’ve completed Ben Okri’s ‘fat’ 500 page Booker prize winning novel, “The Famished Road.” If Achebe is the king of proverbs then I think Ben Okri is the king of riddles. He writes a sort of riddle like prose. Most of his sentences read like they need some deciphering/decoding. And he does it from the very beginning…“In the beginning there was a river. The river became a road and the road branched out to the world. And because the road was once a river it was always hungry.” You’re like “how can a river become a road? How can it be hungry?” Then my mind went to the beginning of John’s gospel. “In the beginning the word already existed; the word was with God and the word was God.” I’m wondering if he was inspired by that! And his wonderful evocation of a spirit child’s infancy is full of witty words. “Life is full of riddles that only the dead can answer…There are many riddles of the dead that only the living can answer…There are mysterious forces everywhere we are living in a world of riddles…The road gave them a message for me…Hunger drove them from their kingdom and now the road is their only palace…The night was a messenger…Grow wherever life puts you down.
Ben Okri’s creativity is very lush and intense too. You’ll find
all these in the book. Someone upside down with legs on his head and
running…a woman who gave birth to a big white egg…a land where nothing
cast a shadow…a leopard with glass teeth…rats with yellow diamond
teeth…an old man with golden hooves feet…a stout muscular tree with no
leaves…a cat jumped right through me…plants that dream…a beggar with the
head of a turtle…fishes swam in the black lights of the bar…a bird with
a man’s hairy legs…antelope with the face of a chaste woman…a woman
with the feet of a lioness…fishes with heads of birds…someone with blue
blood like ink…the main character, Azaro meeting his double in another
world…foetus baby with a little beard and another foetus with fully
formed teeth..extinct birds stood near Dad’s boots. Whoa, a lot of
creativity. Excellent work, Mr. Okri, I learnt a lot from your narrative
technique. So now is onto the next book, onto the next one.