Kalliope Muse speaks to me

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The Famished Road

The Famished Road - Ben Okri Towards the end of the book, in Chapter 12 of Book 7, the author states quite clearly what seems to be his intended message:The spirit-child is an unwilling adventurer into chaos and sunlight, into the dreams of the living and the dead. Things that are not ready, not willing to be borne or to become, things for which adequate preparations have not been made to sustain their momentous births, things that are not resolved, things bound up with failure and with fear of being, they all keep recurring, keep coming back, and in themselves partake of the spirit-child’s condition. They keep coming and going till their time is right. History itself fully demonstrates how things of the world partake of the condition of the spirit-child.There are many who are of this condition and do not know it. There are many nations, civilizations, ideas, half-discoveries, revolutions, loves, art forms, experiments, and historical events that are of this condition and do not know it. There are many people too. They do not all have the marks of their recurrence. Often they seem normal. Often they are perceived of as new. Often they are serene with the familiarity of death’s embrace. They all carry strange gifts in their souls. They are all part-time dwellers in their own secret moonlight. They all yearn to make of themselves a beautiful sacrifice, a difficult sacrifice, to bring transformation, and to die shedding Light within this life, setting the matter Ready for their true beginnings to cry into being, scorched by the strange ecstasy of the will ascending to say yes to destiny and illumination.This is a very ambitious aim. But I am afraid that my reading of the novel failed to conjure up these lofty goals.Believe me. I really wanted to like this book with a five stars intensity. It has been on my shelves for years, and friends have borrowed and loved it. I have read other books that use magical portrayals and I have liked most of them. I think that I am perceptive of the power that magic, myth and chimeras have in portraying a difficult reality. Distorting the world and our perceptions is an effective glass for seeing the way brutality, poverty, famine, insalubrious habitat, and coercive violence distort humanity. But the truth is that I found the continuous use of imagery in Famished Road trying, erratic, pointless, and therefore somewhat predictable. And that, I fear, is the opposite of the effect it should have had. At the beginning I was enthralled by the powerful images but gradually I began to find the rhythm of the sentences somewhat disconnected. It read as a succession of detached shots, which in a staccato style seemed jarring to my eyes and failed to produce any sense of flow. And in addition, there was too much addition. This book is just too long, with pages and pages of weird images embedded in trite episodes.May be I should offer an apology, for I suspect that, as it happens in other unfortunate occasions, the timing of my reading was wrong. It is as if books functioned in waves and sometimes our brains cannot tune in properly to the appropriate wave length. The book description in GR places this book in the genre of Magical Realism, and mentions two other obvious representatives, [a:García Márquez Gabriel|13450|Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez|http://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1217356613p2/13450.jpg] and [a:Salman Rushdie|3299|Salman Rushdie|http://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1345771006p2/3299.jpg]. From what I have read from these writers, they use fantasy to draw attention to the incongruous of a particular society or country, without falling into an exploitation of the imagery per se. These two writers were not, however, those who came to my mind as more successful artificers in using hallucinatory poetry to depict suffering. The one book that kept coming to my mind, when the succession of idiosyncratic images and endless strings of spirits got on my nerves, was [b:Beloved|6149|Beloved|Toni Morrison|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1347984578s/6149.jpg|736076] (1987-Pulitzer). In this amazing book Toni Morrison is less ambitious than Okri, and tackles just one real event, the Margaret Garner (1850s) case. But her images and language in Beloved succeed in dislocating one’s frame of mind and in recreating the abominations and grief of that despairing episode. Her denunciation of injustice in racial prejudices necessarily hits home.In reading Famished Road one wishes to recognize Nigeria, or at least somewhere in Africa, but at the end all this writing offered me no awakening visions. I did not learn much or take consciousness of the plights of this country as I did when I read [a:Wole Soyinka|978|Wole Soyinka|http://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1320137855p2/978.jpg].Famished Road is the first of three in the Abiku Trilogy and won the 1991 Booker. The sequels are [b:Songs of Enchantment|215176|Songs of Enchantment|Ben Okri|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1172773684s/215176.jpg|1606038], and [b:Infinite Riches|101095|Infinite Riches|Ben Okri|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1171476213s/101095.jpg|1606016], but given my only 3 stars, I will proceed no further.But so as not to leave a dissonant melody, I will leave you with a nice quote by James Purdon in The Observer review. He probably tuned in a lot better than I did.Okri's novel – the first part of a trilogy – brought forward his distinctive brand of magical realism, but it also raised questions about some of the conventions of Anglo-African postcolonial writing. Is the abiku a youthful spirit – a Pan who sees the world in its full strangeness and plenitude – or one of Nigeria's displaced children, cut off from a culture far richer than the material world of his birth? What does it mean for us to stay, like Azaro, in the "world of the living" while reading this lush prose, full to bursting with fruits and seeds, palm wine and precious stones? "Our hunger can change the world," Azaro's father tells him, "make it better, sweeter." Okri's novel hungers for variety, for compassion and hope – and for an art that might make a feast out of famine.http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/feb/28/the-famished-road-ben-okri-review

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