The writer discusses his Booker Prize winning novel with Indian author Jerry Pinto
Bangla Academy was packed all day with enthusiastic crowds, all rushing to attend the riveting line-up of panels that successfully made up the second day of this year’s Dhaka Lit Fest. Booker Prize-winning novelist and poet Ben Okri, one of the highlights of the festival this year, was back in front of an eager audience in his second panel session, titled “The Famished Road”, where he talked about his award-winning novel of the same name, with celebrated Indian author Jerry Pinto.
The session started with a poignant introduction of Okri’s novel, by Pinto, who called it a “beautiful melody of alternative universes existing in parallel to ours.” Moving on to the discussion of the book and how it came about, Okri mentioned that his first challenge was in some of the limitations he came upon when writing in the English language, about a story that was purely thought out in Nigerian. He explained, “One of the greatest difficulties was actually seeing the possibility of how language could express the muti-dimentionality of our reality. So the first problem was how to deal with this multidimensionality in a language that is fated to sequentiality. I spent a lot of time looking for a kind of narration that allowed me to touch three or four things at once.” He went on to elaborate by talking about “textual suggestiveness, where you do something on one part of the page, that suggests something on the other part of the page. You say something in one line, but that saying really becomes visible in the next line. It’s something I practiced a lot and this is the only book in which I allowed myself to do that.”
Okri spoke about his conceptualisation of the book and how he was drawn to “the power of one idea that is like a seed in the outside, but inside there is a kind of infinity.” And that is how he said he conceptualised his unique protagonist, the spirit child Azaro, “this small child, like the tiny little seed, inside whom there is the story of a whole continent, and it’s way of dealing with the trauma and strangeness of birth, and the whole mystery of culture.”
The engaging panel ended with a round of avid questions from the audience.