It is hard to believe that 25 years has passed since Ben Okri stunned the world with the story of a Azaro, a spirit child stranded in the human world.
Published in 1991, The Famished Road was one of the crowning moments of the 20th century, as far as fiction goes. Okri’s poetic prose and magical stories pushed the already established genre of magical realism to its most experimental limits.
In celebration of the novel’s silver jubilee, Vintage has issued a special anniversary edition of the novel. Last week, The Guardian shared an extract of the introduction—written by Okri— to the new edition.
Okri reflects on the experiences that inspired the novel and that saw him through the long and arduous writing process. He talks about being poor and having to interrupt his writing. All through the years he drafted the novel, it kept him going and served as some kind of intellectual companion.
But as you probably already know, Okri is always in poetry mode, so the essay is written in beautiful poetic style.
Happy silver jubilee to The Famished Road!
The Famished Road is fed by the dreams of literature. I devoured the world, through art, politics, literature, films and music, in order to find the elixir of its tone. Then it became a perpetual story into which flowed the great seas of African dreams, myths and fables of the world, known and unknown. I made up stories in the matrix of the ancestral mode. Many people read these stories and assume they belong to the oral tradition, but I had always believed that it is an artist’s function to enrich the oral tradition with stories of our own, inventions of our own, inspired by the tales we heard in the moonlight, sitting in a circle. But even in that the tone is the thing.
But it was as a child that I began the book, with innocence and simplicity of heart. With the rich history of literature turning in my mind, I would disappear into the writing of the novel as into a dream. It was as if I sensed there was a book there, in the archetypal margins of the numinous world that existed already in the spirit realm; my task was to bring it here, as one lowering intact a perfect vision.
The novel was written to give myself reasons to live. Often the wonder of living fades from us, obscured by a thousand things. I wanted to look at life afresh and anew and I sought a story that would give me the right vantage point. — Read More