24 October 2006

only the dead can answer

Ben Okri is a poet and novelist who was born in 1959. His novel The Famished Road won the Booker prize in 1991. I can't help wondering if knowing it has one this prestigious prize will affect my opinion of it. Will I expect it to be something fantastic?

The Nigeria that Ben Okri will show me is one with an ‘unforgiving climate’. It will be stiflingly hot, I need to take my time to adjust to the change of continent.

I am introduced to the Famished Road of the title straight away. I find out that the road was not always a road, it was once a river. But the river dried up. I soon realise that everything is not as it seems and that appears to be the theme for the novel.

The narrator of the story is a child named Azaro. He is a spirit child. The novel floats seamlessly between the ‘real world’ and the spirit world, but Okri writes in such a mysterious and often dreamy way that sometimes the two get blurred and I am not sure where I am. But this is not a criticism, I like the vagueness, it reminds me of drifting in and out of sleep.

One of the main characters that Azaro encounters is Madame Koto, a local bar owner. She has a lot of impact on the young boy and his family. At first Azaro is suspicious of her, but he finds her intriguing;

‘She was often digging the earth, planting a secret or taking one out’

Gradually he finds out more about her and it becomes clear to him and the reader what her motivations are.

So far it is difficult to say how I am finding Nigeria as a place. Okri’s use of magic realism means that I spend as much time in the mythical world as I do in Africa. But maybe this is my Africa for now.

the navigator

04 October 2006

the road to paradise

Its taken a while to get this far, but I am finally ready to see Nigeria.

It is a long way from Europe and I took the slow route. No aeroplanes for me, I wanted to feel the ground beneath my feet. I needed to take in my surroundings at eye level.

So now I am here. Ben Okri and The Famished Road await to show me around.

the navigator