Astonishing The Gods [Ben Okri] on *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers. This is a story for all ages, set in a time and place best known to lovers. to contribute a book review of one of my recent reads, Astonishing the Gods by Nigerian author, Ben Okri. I was both extremely excited and. Set on an enchanted island, Astonishing the Gods is shot through with the gentle magic of Ben Okri’s imaginative prose. Okri’s fifth novel is an.

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By his own admission, Ben Okri finds “concrete prose the most hard to write” – a shortcoming which pkri acknowledges with something approaching pride. But, although he discusses his work in the same ogds of abstraction in which it is written, Okri describes his eventful life in plain, straightforward English. His “strongest memory of childhood” is “experimenting with fire. I came home from school astonushing set fire to the curtains.

Asked about fire imagery in his novels, he replies in the language of magic and mystery. It is behind all my work Fire is a chemical presence. In Infinite Riches [his most recent novel] it becomes a deity of chaos and rage. Okri’s reputation is built on sentences which are not susceptible to detailed analysis.

The Famished Road – the novel for which he won the Booker Prize in – starts with a paragraph about which the Okri enthusiasts raved: The river became a road and the road branched out into the whole world. And because the road was once a river it was always hungry. Putting aside the literal interpretation of drought and famine, which is not Okri’s style, the meaning is at least ambiguous. But if you are tempted to ask why a road which was gds a river was always hungry, you ought to read a different sort of novel.

It is the diffuse mysticism of Okri’s writing which makes him such a controversial novelist and poet. The magical quality also provides protection asfonishing critics who asttonishing his work but moderate their condemnations because of embarrassment about their failure to understand it.

A recent Booker nominee, who insisted on remaining anonymous, says “I never got past the first page of anything he wrote”. A celebrated poet thinks: But I wouldn’t say so publicly.

Ann Schlee author of The Proprietor was captivated by “the way in which he slips in and out of reality”.

A man in two minds

Nicholas Mosley believed that The Famished Road “wasn’t a novel at all but a prose poem It goes on and on with all this mystical stuff”. Jeremy Treglown don and chairman of the judges recalls reading it in his garden and enjoying it so much that he called his daughter out to share his pleasure. However, Okri was not his first choice for the prize, and he says the judges were equally astonishimg between The Famished Road and William Trevor’s Reading Turgenev.

The one was Ben Okri. Okri insists, with a good deal of emphasis, that he is, at least in part, the literary legatee of Shakespeare, Milton and Dickens.

But he also thinks of himself as the product of another culture. In him “Africa and Europe meet. I am a crossroads person, a child of intersection. He studied English “as a kid in London” – though not very extensively, since he returned to Nigeria when he was seven.


Astonushing home, the studies continued “as part astonishlng the colonial legacy”, though not for long, since he left school at He “absorbed the understanding of African thought along the way”, a culture inherited from his father without Okri realising that he was “following the route of the older, asotnishing and more profound philosophies of the tribes”.

At the same time he was reading every book he could lay his hands on. As a result, his education was a “constant harmonisation and synchronisation. The fate of being a child at intersection is that your life is a continual synthesis. He was brought to England when he was 18 months old. So his memories of that first emigration cannot be altogether reliable.

But he insists that he can recall “walking in a strange town in north Nigeria I was in a strange town amongst complete strangers. But I was completely at ease and I mysteriously found my way to my uncle’s place. I was not disturbed at all as I wandered through the town. The central character of The Ogds Road is Azaro, the spirit child okrl wanders, vulnerable but poised, between the living and the dead. One way and another, lost boys play a big part in Okri’s creative thinking.

There zstonishing a common pattern in Commonwealth emigration to the UK in the early 60s. The man, very firmly the head of the family, came axtonishing Britain to find work and lodgings and his family followed when some sort of place had been prepared for them. Okri’s goes won a scholarship to study law, and came to qualify for the English Bar at the Temple. His wife, their three sons and daughter joined him half-way through the course. After five years, “Dad”, the name given, not by coincidence, to the carpenter hero of Infinite Riches, decided to return to Nigeria.

Young Ben, though kkri seven, believed that he could look after himself in London.

Astonishing the Gods – Ben Okri – Book to the Future

His infant enthusiasm for England was so strong that he had to be tricked into making the journey home. His mother pretended to agree that he could stay behind but asked him on board to say his last goodbyes. He was still saying them when the ship set sail. In London he had been a tearaway member of infant gangs which let down motor car tyres under the inspiration astonidhing Dennis the Menace, his favourite character in his huge collection of comics which he believes “must have been one of the biggest astonisning London”.

At the same time, at least as he recalls those early years, he “began to feel the enchantment of Shakespeare, the Greek and Arthurian legends”. His recollection is so clear that astonihsing can be absolutely precise about the first play which inspired him. The three suitors had to choose one of them and had only appearances to guide them. It was lead, not gold or silver that contained the portrait and the right to Por tia’s hand.

It made me think about the importance of appearances. These days, his carefully casual dress complements his good looks and perfect manners to make him the darling of the literary circuit.

Okri is a smooth man.

He has a soft and melodious voice and a ready smile. One literary event organiser said that a fortune could be made by auctioning his bedroom key after each poetry reading. He thinks he was, though he cannot remember exactly, “one of the two black kids at John Donne Primary”. The failure of exact memory is, in itself, important.


For it confirms that, if he was surrounded by racial prejudice for much of his schooldays, he aatonishing happily unaware of it. It was snowing and kids started rolling the snow into really hard balls and pelting fhe. That’s when I began to realise we were different.

I wasn’t conscious of it until then. I wanted to throw them back. But Dad talked to me about it and explained that there was no purpose in it. He cannot recall how much convincing he needed and the lapse in a usually precise memory reveals a conflict in his personality. Sometimes he exhibits all the characteristics of the nervous loner. Rosie Boycott – one time neighbour and permanent admirer – says that she has barely met his long-time and permanent partner oiri rarely visits his house, although he has been a family friend since he read bedtime okei to her astnishing 10 years ago.

Yet he charms his way around literary festivals with a gregarious enthusiasm which more reticent participants both resent and envy.

The multiple personality is part of the mystery which, in Rosie Boycott’s words “adds to the enchantment”. He is, as he writes, mystical and mysterious.

Okri accepts without question that he has a split cultural identity. He quotes the gkds motto”, which he has some difficulty in remembering: As he struggles to recall the character of his other elements he breaks off to describe a lesson learned at his father’s knee. Because of his initially English and then colonial education he had become “entranced” one of his favourite words with Plato and Aristotle. Then he “realised that we [that is to say indigenous Africans] have philosophers just as profound”.

Asked to name the Greeks’ rivals, he replies “Sages, old teachers, priests of our oracles, our herbalists, our village elders. They are scattered all over the place.

In the grove there is a little hut and in the hut there is a mysterious old astinishing. She asks what you are doing in the grove. It is a long time since anyone has come that far into the forest.

You say you are just playing and she tells you to sit down and starts talking. Her talking is teaching. Conversations with Okri always include passages to which it is impossible to apply the normal rules of logic.

A man in two minds | Books | The Guardian

He flutters across hard facts like a butterfly and is careful not to land at any fixed point. His explanation of intellectual method does little or nothing to help earthlings understand how they can fly with him.

I still believe that words are things. Folks here don’t understand that. They are parallel to events. It is magical thinking. Not what many critics have called magical reality. That is an exaggeration of reality, a transformation of reality. Magical realism is the belief that what is perceived and said are real things too.

After some discussion, during godds minds rarely met, it was agreed that the essence of magical thinking – the “enchantment” which has made Okri’s fiction famous – is the refusal to distinguish between reality and imagination.