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About the Author: Ben Okri

Poet and novelist Ben Okri was born in 1959 in Minna, northern Nigeria, to an Igbo mother and Urhobo father. He grew up in London before returning to Nigeria with his family in 1968. Much of his early fiction explores the political violence that he witnessed at first hand during the civil war in Nigeria. He left the country when a grant from the Nigerian government enabled him to read Comparative Literature at Essex University in England.

He was poetry editor for West Africa magazine between 1983 and 1986 and broadcast regularly for the BBC World Service between 1983 and 1985. He was appointed Fellow Commoner in Creative Arts at Trinity College Cambridge in 1991, a post he held until 1993. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1987, and was awarded honorary doctorates from the universities of Westminster (1997) and Essex (2002).

His first two novels, Flowers and Shadows (1980) and The Landscapes Within (1981), are both set in Nigeria and feature as central characters two young men struggling to make sense of the disintegration and chaos happening in both their family and country. The two collections of stories that followed, Incidents at the Shrine (1986) and Stars of the New Curfew (1988), are set in Lagos and London.

In 1991 Okri was awarded the Booker Prize for Fiction for his novel The Famished Road (1991). Set in a Nigerian village, this is the first in a trilogy of novels which tell the story of Azaro, a spirit child. Azaro's narrative is continued in Songs of Enchantment (1993) and Infinite Riches (1998). Other recent fiction includes Astonishing the Gods (1995) and Dangerous Love (1996), which was awarded the Premio Palmi (Italy) in 2000. His latest novels are In Arcadia (2002) and Starbook (2007).

A collection of poems, An African Elegy, was published in 1992, and an epic poem, Mental Flight, in 1999. A collection of essays, A Way of Being Free, was published in 1997. Ben Okri is also the author of a play, In Exilus.

In his latest book, Tales of Freedom (2009), Okri brings together poetry and story.

Ben Okri is a Vice-President of the English Centre of International PEN, a member of the board of the Royal National Theatre, and was awarded an OBE in 2001. He lives in London.


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Goodreads rating: 3.73

Paperback, by Vintage

ISBN10: 0099929309 | ISBN13: 9780099929307

Page count: 574

You have never read a novel like this one. Winner of the 1991 Booker Prize for fiction, The Famished Road tells the story of Azaro, a spirit-child. Though spirit-children rarely stay long in the painful world of the living, when Azaro is born he chooses to fight death: "I wanted," he says, "to make happy the bruised face of the woman who would become my mother." Survival in his chaotic African village is a struggle, though. Azaro and his family must contend with hunger, disease, and violence, as well as the boy's spirit-companions, who are constantly trying to trick him back into their world. Okri fills his tale with unforgettable images and characters: the bereaved policeman and his wife, who try to adopt Azaro and dress him in their dead son's clothes; the photographer who documents life in the village and displays his pictures in a cabinet by the roadside; Madame Koto, "plump as a mighty fruit," who runs the local bar; the King of the Road, who gets hungrier the more he eats.

At the heart of this hypnotic novel are the mysteries of love and human survival. "It is more difficult to love than to die," says Azaro's father, and indeed, it is love that brings real sharpness to suffering here. As the story moves toward its climax, Azaro must face the consequences of choosing to live, of choosing to walk the road of hunger rather than return to the benign land of spirits. The Famished Road is worth reading for its last line alone, which must be one of the most devastating endings in contemporary literature (but don't skip ahead). --R. Ellis

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