(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Azaro, the narrator-protagonist of Okri’s Famished Road, is an abiku, or spirit-child, destined to undergo a recurring cycle of birth, early death, and rebirth. Azaro betrays his abiku destiny by choosing to remain among the living when he sees the sad face of his mother. He belongs both to the world of humans and the world of spirits, a double identity that gives him insight into the hidden nature of people and phenomena. Azaro’s double vision is also the vision of the novel: Okri constructs a multidimensional universe in which appearances give way to surprising realities and all things have their spiritual, as well as material, aspects.

The multidimensionality of The Famished Road is apparent in the twin metaphors of its title. The road is one of the novel’s central images, recurring on various levels of narrative structure. Sometimes it is a literal road, where characters travel or lose their way. Sometimes it becomes a mythical creature, the Road King, eternally hungry for victims. It represents the spiritual journeys of the protagonists and the meanderings of the story itself. At times it is a river, echoing the powerful fluidity of the narrative, as well as its characters. Okri’s concept of hunger is similarly flexible. It is the literal hunger of families struggling to survive, but it also is the greed of the powerful, the deprivation of the powerless, and the spiritual yearning of a suffering people. Food is the central currency in the novel’s social and symbolic economy: It is stolen, poisoned, rationed, and withheld, but also shared in moments of familial and communal feasting. Both hunger and the road function in the novel as versatile metamorphic symbols, carrying the text’s structural and philosophical complexity.

Like his symbolism, Okri’s characters are never static. Azaro travels back and forth between waking life and the realm of the spirits, which he traverses in visions and hallucinatory journeys. His father fights political enemies but also supernatural opponents who leave him drifting through strange liminal zones between death and life. Azaro’s mother encounters beings from realms beyond the human during her long days at the market. Madam Koto, a powerful local...

(The entire section is 927 words.)