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Ben Okri. Photo credit: David Levenson / Getty.

Ben Okri has a new novel forthcoming in January 2019. The Nigerian novelist-poet-essayist, who is the only black African to receive the Booker Prize, in 1991 for his The Famished Road, had the 256-page book rights acquired by Head of Zeus for release in the UK in February 2019, by HarperCollins for release in Australia on 21 January 2019, and by Jonathan Ball Publishers for release in South Africa in March 2019. It will further be available from Head of Zeus as an e-book. The Freedom Artist has been called Okri’s “most significant novel since The Famished Road.”

Okri, whose fiction has been compared to Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s and Salman Rushdie’s, published his first novel Flowers and Shadows (1980) at 21. He followed it with The Landscapes Within (1981), Songs of Enchantment (1993), Astonishing the Gods (1995), Dangerous Love (1996), Infinite Riches (1998), In Arcadia (2002), Starbook (2007), and The Age of Magic (2014).

Winning the Booker Prize for The Famished Road (1991) made him the then youngest writer to receive the prize; for the novel he also won the 1993 Chianti Ruffino-Antico Fattore International Literary Prize and the 1994 Premio Grinzane Cavour in Italy. He has further received the 1987 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Africa Region for Incidents at the Shrine, the 1987 Aga Khan Prize for Fiction for The Dream Vendor’s August, a 1995 Crystal Award from the World Economic Forum, and the 2000 Premio Palmi in Italy for Dangerous Love, and was shortlisted for the 1988 Guardian Fiction Prize for Stars of the New Curfew.

The Freedom Artist cover by Head of Zeus. Image from Booktopia.

Here is a description of the novel from HarperCollins:

An impassioned plea for freedom and justice, set in a world uncomfortably like our own.

In Ben Okri’s most significant novel since the Man Booker-winning The Famished Road, a young woman is arrested for speaking four simple words – Who is the Prisoner? This question resonates throughout the novel, and by the end it has become the question every reader has to ask themselves. The answer is implicit in the revelation at the heart of the story.

After her disappearance, a man begins to search for the woman, because he loves her. He searches desperately at first, and then with growing realization. And we journey with him as he searches, through a frightening, disintegrating world of lies, and violence, and fear. At the heart of this disturbing world lies the Prison.

To survive, and to answer the girl’s question, the young man, like all of us, has to accept the challenge and fight back.

The Freedom Artist is a penetrating examination of how freedom is threatened in a post-truth society. It’s a powerful call to arms.

In a statement to The Bookseller, the book’s UK publisher Head of Zeus said: “Okri’s latest novel is a penetrating examination of how freedom is threatened in a post-truth society. Weaving together myth and dystopia, he has crafted a powerful call to arms to defend our liberty. It is angry, political, intriguing and significant.”

Okri has described the book as “a novel I have been wanting to write for a long time, a fist of light against a wall of darkness.”

We will bring you more on The Freedom Artist.

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Otosirieze is deputy editor of Brittle Paper. He is a judge for the 2018/19 Gerald Kraak Prize. He is an editor at 14, Nigeria’s first queer art collective, which has published volumes including We Are Flowers (2017) and The Inward Gaze (2018). He is the curator of the Art Naija Series, a sequence of e-anthologies of writing and visual art focusing on different aspects of Nigerianness, including Enter Naija: The Book of Places (2016), which explores cities, and Work Naija: The Book of Vocations (2017), which explores professions. His fiction has appeared in The Threepenny Review and Transition. He has completed a collection of short stories, You Sing of a Longing, is working on a novel, and is represented by David Godwin Associates literary agency. He combined English and History at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, is completing a postgraduate degree in African Studies, and taught English at Godfrey Okoye University, Enugu. Find him at otosirieze.com, where he accepts writing and editing offers, or on Instagram or Twitter: @otosirieze. When bored, he Googles Rihanna.

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