Review: The Famished Road, by Ben Okri (DNF)

OK, listen carefully people.  The next time I pick up a book written in the magical realism style, please stop me!

Magical realism just doesn’t do anything for me.  And The Famished Road is 500 pages of dreams, ghosts, cats that appear out of nowhere, and unusual people who behave in strange and mystical ways.  It’s the story of Azaro, a “spirit child,” who remains in contact with the spirit world after his birth.  Azaro’s family is clearly struggling to earn a living, make ends meet, feed and clothe themselves, etc.

The book started off strong with this opening sentence:

In the beginning there was a river. The river became a road and the road branched out to the whole world.  And because the road was once a river it was always hungry.  (p. 3)

Well, that’s just beautiful.  And there are many passages like that.  But, as I mentioned, there are also dreams, ghosts, cats that appear out of nowhere, and unusual people who behave in strange and mystical ways.  This book is full of allegory and cultural references that I just couldn’t grasp.  Some reviews (notably Trevor’s on The Complete Booker) cited the value of facilitated classroom discussion.  That might have helped me overcome the whole magical realism thing.  As it was, I read only the first 71 pages and decided there were better ways to spend my time.

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21 thoughts on “Review: The Famished Road, by Ben Okri (DNF)

  1. I loved this book! I admit that a lot of it went over my head and there were some sections where I wasn’t sure what was happening, but overall I thought the plot was fantastic and I loved reading about African mythology. You’ve reminded me that I really should read the sequel!

  2. There’s something about magical realism I just don’t get…. always have a hard time with this type of book. Guess I won’t be attempting The Famished Road any time soon.

  3. I’m so glad there’s someone else in the world who didn’t like this book. I did actually finish it (and generally don’t mind magical realism) but this one made me want to reconsider reading a pleasure, it was so dull. And of course, everywhere I turn, I see glowing reviews of it so I was feeling quite alone (but not enough to go back and see what I missed or if I’ve matured in the intervening years). So thank you for making me feel like I have a bit of company in my corner.

  4. I read this one over a really long period of time, little bits here and there, so it felt more like I was reading more for the words and ideas than for what-I-understand-to-be-story. I found it very challenging…but in a good way. Although thinking about it having a sequel, or ::gulp:: being part of a trilogy does make me a little more anxious than excited ::lol::

    • It’s clear this is a book that needs concentration, probably even for fans of magical realism. Reading a bit at a time would be a good strategy for me — too bad this was a library book. On the other hand, I’m not all that upset about it 🙂

    • Marieke, if I’ve made an effort, I count it. I want to read them all, but if I really dislike a book I am not going to force it just to say I read the entire book. Having said that, there’s only one other Booker winner I haven’t finished.

  5. I belive anyone who read more than the first 71pages would think otherwise about this book…..although at a particular time it felt like the magical appearances and discription were getting a little too much but in the end,all in all,its fine book filled wif a lot of detail,contrast,metaphores,imageries,action,conflict,climax,depressing and glorious moments…its a true work of literature

    • Ayooluwa, thank you for your comment. I agree it is a work of literature, and well-written. I’ve come to learn that I simply don’t care for magical realism, and my reading time is better spent with other styles or genres.

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