The Famished Road

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The dramatic events that have taken place in South Africa during the past few years make it easy to forget that Africa is not a country but a continent. The literature of South Africa, more precisely, of white South African writers, holds a similarly special place in the western mind: the fiction of J. M. Coetzee, Andre Brink, and Nadine Gordimer, recent recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Except for Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka, few black African writers have fared so well, perhaps because none has done for Africa what Gabriel Garcia Marquez did for South America and Salman Rushdie for the Indian subcontinent? None, until now, that is, with the publication of THE FAMISHED ROAD by Ben Okri, born in Nigeria in 1959 and currently living in England. Okri was unknown in the United States until the publication of his fourth book, THE STARS OF THE NEW CURFEW (1988). Excellent as those six stories are, they only prepare the way for THE FAMISHED ROAD, winner of the Booker Prize for fiction (which, appropriately enough, Rushdie won exactly ten years earlier).

THE FAMISHED ROAD is reminiscent of Rushdie’s novel and its precursor, Garcia Marquez’s ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE. It is not, however, merely imitative; part of its achievement is the way it combines and transcends the magic realism of these two novels and the very different postcolonial style and sensibility of Achebe, Nigeria’s best-known novelist. Narrated by Azaro, an abuki (spirit...

(The entire section is 509 words.)