The Famished Road

Orality and Transformation in Ben Okri’s The Famished Road College

‘Life is full of riddles that only the dead can answer.’

The ‘dead’ are important to Ben Okri’s The Famished Road in a number of ways. His narrator Azuro is ‘Abiku’; the ‘spirit’ child of Yoruba mythology, predestined to an early death and connected to the ‘spirit world’ by persistent and esoteric threads. Unlike the Christian Lazarus with whom his name is associated, Azaro does not undergo bodily resurrection but repeated death and re-birth. The cyclical nature of his existence is significant in that it allows Okri’s narrative to span the ‘real’ and the ‘spirit’ worlds and the transitional space between the two. Thus, the novel sets up an intriguing paradigm of reality in which esoteric existence is afforded the same narrative significance as the newly independent Nigeria in which the novel is set. Yet, the novel also relies on ‘the dead’ in a wider sense. Okri’s invocation of Nigerian mythology and paradigms of folklore constructs an intriguing historicism as the narrative models of past generations are regenerated within his writing. This sense of transformation, or as Ato Quason suggests a ‘mythopoetic discourse’ denotes an intriguing interaction between tradition and innovation as Nigerian indigenous culture is reinvented...

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