War, strife, misery, corruption, poverty, emotional and physical brutality, hypocracy, intimidation. It is a short list, but they are indeed the fundamentally potent ingredients that could make anyone who is simmering in the total unhappiness of it all truly yearn unceasingly for an existence in another realm, where the chains of seemingly unending suffering are simply melted away into nonexistence. In poverty laced and psychologically decimated "modern" Nigeria, as written by Ben Okri, the Nigerian society as a whole or a good chunk of it, would be one camp where death would be a liberating gift from the undesired toilings of harsh day-to-day realities. With mellifluous simplicity, Ben Okri creates duel worlds: one heavenly, one earthly. And in the duality, there is a responsive spirit-child named Azaro who can cross the bridge of life into death and death into life, as one who consistently has near death experiences. But each requires a sacrifice, for when Azaro traverses into the dimension of spirit, he must leave behind his mother and father who love him, though much of his earthly actions bring about stress and frustration, as well as joy and pleasure--more of the former than the latter, however. But if he stays in the land of the living, he must endure the hardships that are naturally affixed to it. He gets himself stuck, as if in a Catch-22, hankering for both the spiritual and earthly worlds. Through the vast array of characters: Mom, Dad, Madam Koto, the Photographer, various political yes-men, the boxer Green Leapard, the blind man, Ade, et cetera, the raw yet richly cultured Afrocentric aura looms lushly outward in an almost literary 3-D manner. Village life, culture and mythical behavior, as well as the "game" or "tragedy" (you choose) of African politics via the technique of magical realism is very much fleshed out. The simplicity of the writing style in no way, shape or form mollifies the palpable depth of the characters who must live and survive in an all-too-consuming oppressive environment that would seem quite alien to most of us---in an upper/middle class creme de la creme point of view. The Famished Road is dense, plodding and absolutely wild in its limitlessness of human imagination, a genuine wordy and intellectual tour de force if ever there was one and certainly worthy of its Booker Prize!