Last week, I learned about some request for a weekly feature on Fridays for "Forgotten Books." I thought a bit about this and decided that although I do much the same thing with my occasional Author Spotlights featuring authors whose work I'm currently reading that I believe deserves a greater audience, that I could do this once in a while. Incidentally, the book I chose is a book I'm going to be re-reading this Friday at work, Ben Okri's Booker Prize-winning The Famished Road (1991).
Two years ago, I wrote a little bit on it for wotmania's OF section:
I love the various forms of that oddity that we label as 'Magic Realism.' From the dusty, almond-treed avenues of García Márquez's Macondo to sultry, divided India of Tharoor and Rushdie to the fairy folk of de Lint's Newford, Magic Realism can take our 'ordinary' lives and just add a twist of something else to make it more than what it seems. Ben Okri's Booker Prize-winning novel, The Famished Road, does this for our understandings of modern West Africa, especially his native Nigeria.If I were writing about the book today, I would have gone much more into depth about the issues that I mentioned above, but hopefully this little post here will nudge someone towards checking it out or perhaps rereading it for the first time in years.
This is a very powerful work. The narrator is a boy growing up in a Nigerian village who sees spirits. Not just wispy forms, but solid entities. It is an Animist world, very different from the monotheistic societies in which most of us here have experienced growing up. These spirits impact the lives of this boy and his parents. Throughout the course of the novel, things happen. Bad things. Like the struggles to overcome corrupt landlords and pilfering political parties. These are facts of life. But how this family pulls through, how the Road becomes a symbol for so much, that is the true beauty of this tale.
Over the course of 500 pages, Okri develops the story in a way that feels 'natural,' spirits even. The prose is top-notch and the characterizations are memorable. Especially moving/saddening is what happens to the narrator's father and how that becomes a symbol of sorts for what the average West African villager experiences at the hands of others. There is no easy moral, no trite and 'happy' ending - just surviving and struggling on. But that tale of survival and struggle is uplifting and just moving in so many senses. This is an excellent example of that vague thing called Magic Realism and this is a book that should be experienced, not merely read, by others.