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Famished Road Cover

What do authors think about when they read their own novels? Follow me inside Ben Okri’s head and see for yourself. On a copy of The Famished Road recently donated to English Pen, Okri left revealing marginal comments that give us a sense of how he processed his own writing. For example, on page 500:

 The last sentence took a long time to come to me; and then it came all at once, a distillation of the inward mood of the book, a moment of poetry, a gift from the gods to a hungry yearning loving writing soul.

Scroll down to see more marginal comments. All the pages below correspond to the first edition of the novel published by Jonathan Cape. Enjoy!

famished Road Anotation

p.3 ‘Worked a lot on the opening paragraph: everything is in it: all came out of it; thinking of music; the opening notes; had to get the words absolutely right or the rest won’t follow….Odd that the beginning was written last, when I knew what the work was dreaming…’

p.3 ‘From ‘Abiku’ to ‘spirit-child’ is a leap; a leap from fact to poetry, from belief into something more open, into which hope can perhaps enter, if it wishes…’

p.3 ‘Thinking of those masters, those masters whose eyes peer out in the faces of the astonishers of the human race’

p.8 ‘Do you have intimations of spirit-companions? Those voices in your head at the edge of precipices, those gentle voices where do they come from calling you over into beyond’

p.9 ‘Suffering says go or stay’

p.9 ‘To lock yourself in life. The courage to be.’

p.25 ‘Lucky I couldn’t draw so well: saw these so clearly if I could paint or draw would have done them in clear bright normal colours.’

p.106 ‘Opening the bar to many dimensions’

p.313 ‘Ali the blind old man: a nightmare real in the incandescent days. I know in my bones his living symbolism. These histories like wilting flowers know his touch his gaze. These histories rising like rape in spring know the transcending of his bones.’

p.500 ‘The last sentence took a long time to come to me; and then it came all at once, a distillation of the inward mood of the book, a moment of poetry, a gift from the gods to a hungry yearning loving writing soul -‘

Endpaper ‘In the vast playground

of imagined reality
the writer moves counters
in an invisible game
And all the things of earth
and dreams and realms
In between are moved
Too, in ways unsuspected.
The sand shifts,
People live and die and live
Again on the mysterious
Tree of life;
And their death melts
Like stories at the roots
of the tree to nurture
Philosopy Politics Laws
And love’s endless ways
Things passing in the questing
wind. Blood, tears, birth,
Laughter, mysteries, wonders,
Growing and dying.
Counters moved by the hand
on blank paper in the vast
playground we call living.
The moon returns from pluto.
The chequered board gleams,
In the twilight
where spitit-children
Glimpse flowers and fishes
Multiplied in the land.
The road rolls on beyond.
No longer famished,
No longer a road.
Counters moved in a dream.
The universe responds
With the gift of the word


Want to Nadine Gordimer’s annotations on Conservationist? Click HERE.

Originally published in UK Guardian

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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