"In the beginning there was a river. The river became a road and the roa branched out to the whole world. And because it was once a river it was always hungry."
How can a book that begins that way be anything less than important without fear that it took itself too seriously? I admit that when I started this book, I thought Okri might have pulled a fast one on literature, a bit too pretentious for his own good. But then I got to the next sentences, and I realized that this book was important and profound and demanded to be listened to.
I read Okri's The Famished Road for a post-colonial literary theory class a few years back. I am not sure how I would have felt about it if I weren't subject to three or four two-hour discussions on it. It is very complex. It is filled with everyday stories brought out to encompass gigantic themes, such as nation-building. It deals in liminal space and assumes the reader will put forth the effort to follow. At times it reads like a folk-tale and, as can be seen, at other times it reads like passages from the Bible.
This is from the back of the book: "The narrator, Azaro, is an abiku, a spirit child, who in the Yoruba tradition of Nigeria exists between life and death." There is a lot of going back and forth, and it can get confusing. The other characters are likewise complicated. Underneath it all is an important look at history's influence on the contemporary world.
But, as I said, I don't think I could have appreciated it without the help of a dedicated professor who dwealt in post-colonial literature. In fact, even after excellent lectures, I'd go home to read another portion and find myself thoroughly confused. Not confused, necessarily, by the plot. Confused as to what it all was getting at. Most of the time, however, my inability to understand it came from my desire to read through it at a certain pace. Its an important book, and it takes time to digest.
"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 born 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, civilisations, ideas, half-discoveries, revolutions, loves, art forms, experiments, and historical events that are of this condition and do not know it."
4 stars out of 5.