The Famished Road Essay - Critical Essays

Ben Okri


Although the main narrative of the novels is primarily a dramatization of the growth experiences, emotions, and motivations of Azaro, a young, male, abiku child who is endowed with youthful powers of observation, it is also the story of modern Nigeria’s growth pains as it makes the transition from colonialism to an Africanized democracy rife with violence and corruption. Intertwined with the nation’s political upheaval is Azaro’s own recognition of the cynical reality of the oppressive political situation that typifies the everyday life of the citizenry: the failed political promises, the grinding poverty of the rank and file, and the relentless thuggery against the powerless.

Through his powers of observation, Azaro, the protagonist-narrator, presents a comprehensible and credible world of gods, spirits, ancestors, and humans commingling. Through his mediating perception, the natural and spirit worlds meld, inextricably linked and without boundaries. Abiku child that he is, Azaro straddles both worlds, sometimes simultaneously journeying through them, both spatially and temporally. For all the seeming freedom that straddling both worlds entails, however, Azaro constantly is trapped by his extraordinary metaphysical consciousness. As an abiku child—one born to die and return again and again—he is faced with the difficult choice of answering the call of his spirit companions to return to the spirit world, where he will be bathed “in the ecstasy of an everlasting love,” or instead remaining and fulfilling his filial responsibility to make his parents happy.

His compulsive wanderlust plunges him deeper and deeper into different physical worlds and spirit realms, where his consciousness is shaped by powerful spirit companions and many human characters. His constant wanderings into the forest make him appear mischievous, and the constant “other voices” of his kindred spirits, luring him back to the bliss of the abiku realm, make him appear a renegade. After several close calls and numerous propitiatory rituals and elaborate “homecoming” celebrations, he relents, choosing to extricate himself from the metaphysical force of the abiku spirit realm.

Centered on the journeying motif, the novels tell a story of the triumph of will. Through sheer willpower, the key players survive the...

(The entire section is 970 words.)