Ben Okri - The Famished Road

The Famished Road - Ben Okri

This book almost broke me and ate me. 

I went to bed after reading the first twenty pages of it and I dreamt about chasing an antelope with a broken horn which jumped out the window. I, in turn, was being chased by a wild boar covered in blood which spoke in a human voice. There was also a flying carpet. 

I don't really like magical realism but this book didn't care. I was gonna have it whether I liked it or not. It swept me away before I knew it. By the end of it I would read about a man who slept for two months and not bat an eye. Only a little later I would think: wait a minute, people can't sleep for two months straight! That's not possible, they have to eat and stuff! 

As any other book of magical realism "The Famished Road" is elliptical. The characters go through a never-ending cycles of death and rebirth. It suits so well the literature of Africa and Latin America because it represents the hopelessness and desperation of poverty and mirrors the situation of these fairly new countries that always seem to be going back to square one. It's a never-ending struggle of the same eternal forces that always seems to end in a draw. 

This is really the story that Azaro, the so called 'spirit child' (what a cheesy name really!) tells us. He is a child who doesn't want to stay on this Earth and longs for death. He constantly fights the desire to join his companions from the spirit world. It's only the love of his mother that keeps him fighting back this temptation. It takes him about 500 pages to finally develop a hunger for life even in this miserable post-colonial reality. 

The book is full of symbolism as you would expect but there is also a lot of humour, some political satire and vibrant characters like the powerful bar owner Madame Koto. 

It's beautifully written and it is hypnotic. It is also heart-breaking and devastating. And yes, it could be easily at least 200 pages shorter, but I enjoyed reading it even if it left me drained and hallucinating. I wanted it to end and I didn't want it to end. 

I realise it is a love it or hate it kind of book and frankly I don't mind if you hate it. I feel very possessive and jealous about it. 

The only reason I haven't given it five stars is because I don't see myself rereading it. It would probably drive me mad.