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Ben Okri, The Famished Road Bks 1-3: Themes, Characterization, and Style

Magical Realism, the Carnivalesque, and the Abiku (a + bi + ku = "one born to die")

See "Introduction to Magical Realism" & "What is the Carnivalesque?"

Discussion Questions

  1. How does Azaro’s experience ask the reader to undergo a near merging of European realism and African supernaturalism?
  2. Is the magical realism of the book, following Wendy Faris’ terms, more epistemological or ontological?
  3. Which primary and secondary characteristics of magical realism apply to The Famished Road?
  4. Does Azaro’s narration seek to defamiliarize the scenes for the reader?
  5. Does The Famished Road seek to reverse accepted categories (class, age, gender, spiritual)?
  6. Are any aspects of the carnivalesque present in Azaro’s experience (ritual spectacle, comic compositions, abusive language, bodily distortion or the grotesque)?

Yoruba Cosmology, Suffering, and a Biblical Critique

See "Yoruba Cosmology" [Handout] & "Notes Toward A Biblical Model of Supernatural and Demons"

Discussion Questions

  1. How do the characters seek to balance, manage, or placate supernatural forces in the book? (Note some of the following pages: 12-14, 15-18, 25ff., 88, 103, 107ff., 133ff., 244ff.)
  2. What is your impression of the overall spiritual atmosphere of the work?
  3. What is the literary purpose of the abiku visions of the spirit world? What do they reveal about Azaro, his world, his family?
  4. How would a biblical cosmology respond to and understand Azaro’s experience?
    (For a thorough example of this see

Politics, Poverty, and The Road

  1. Look at the following passages and decide what Okri is suggesting about Nigerian politics: 122-127, 128, 152-153, 168-169, 175ff., 192, 198ff., 233ff.
  2. How is the world of politics and economics related to the spirit world?
  3. How does Okri portray the conditions of the family’s poverty? (32-33, 70-71, 78-81, 83ff.)
  4. What role does violence, oppression, and suffering play in their world? (cf. 10-11, 146ff., 154-156, 263-265)
  5. What is the significance of the title? Why is the road such an important metaphor for the novel? (cf. 46, 94, 113-115, 121, 183, 258-261)


Work up a character analysis of the following:

  • Dad (28-29, 34, 44, 50, 53, 58-60, 70-71, 85, 117-119, 148-152, 237)
  • Mum (53-55, 129, 162, 168-170, 227-228, 257)
  • Madame Koto (37, 75, 100-101, 221-226, 239, 249ff.)
  • The photographer (45, 91, 141ff., 156-158, 173ff., 188ff, 231ff.)


Consider what the following reveal about Okri's style and approach:

  • Prose description (cf. 3-6, 18, 32, 138)
  • Dialogue (cf. 16-17, 62-63, 66, 163-164,167, 231)
  • Key lines (40, 140, 158, 219, 228-229)
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"All manner of thing shall be well/ When the tongues of flame are in-folded/ Into the crowned knot of fire/ And the fire and the rose are one." -- T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding