Tag Archives: Ben Okri

Magical Realism in Afro-Literature

The death of Gabriel Garcia Marquez marks the passing of yet another literary giant.  His presence will be missed but his words are guaranteed to live on through his work.  In addition to his most well-known novels Love In The Time of Cholera and 100 Years of Solitude, Marquez left a legacy that is synonymous with the literary genre “magical realism” by effortlessly infusing reality with fantasy.

Magical realism incorporates enchanting or other-world elements into otherwise commonplace stories.  Marquez mastered this art and solidified his presence as one of the greats within the genre.  However, he was not the first to utilize this technique.  Magical elements have historically played a role in African and African-Diaspora literature and story telling.  A quick web-search will reveal countless books, articles and academic papers on the subject.  It’s late, so I’ll spare you the history and instead provide a list of my five favorite novels that feature magical realism.

Add your favorites in the comments below.

Image5) Mama Day by Gloria Naylor

A story, depicting the mysterious Miranda “Mama” Day and her niece Ophelia, that takes place in a fictional island off the coast of Georgia.  It’s reminiscent of a Shakespearean novel and depicts the tragedy and sacrifice between lovers.

Image4) Kindred by Octavia Butler

This bewitching tale follows Dana Franklin as she involuntarily travels through time in an attempt to preserve her lineage and ensure her own survival.  It’s a fast-paced historical novel that secures Butler’s role as the mother of modern science fiction and magical realism.

Image3) The Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi wa Thiong’o

The Wizard of the Crow is as entertaining as it is politically astute.  The story surrounds citizens within a fictional African country ruled by an aging dictator.  In this novel I’m not sure which concepts are more absurd – the magical occurrences or the real  current events from which the story is based . . .

Image2) Beloved by Toni Morrison

Beloved is the story of an escaped slave who is haunted by her past.  Not only is it an epic historical fiction novel, Morrison expertly guides the reader in and out of each character’s psychosis until the line between magic and reality is practically invisible.  Don’t let the (horrible) film adaptation deter you from exploring this novel; this isn’t just about slavery just as it isn’t simply a ghost story.

Image1) The Famished Road by Ben Okri

What is it about the country of Nigeria that produces game-changing authors and pioneers in literature?  Not only is The Famished Road laced with realistic-feeling magical elements, Okri’s writing style is purely enchanting.  The first few chapters of the book are so beautifully written that the novel is spell-binding.  Ben Okri writes like no author I have ever encountered. He’s brilliant, no question, but I’m now convinced there’s wizardry involved!

 

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Filed under African Lit, Afro-American Lit

Poem of the Month: “An African Elegy”

“We are the miracles that God made
To taste the bitter fruit of Time.
We are precious.
And one day our suffering
Will turn into the wonders of the earth.

There are things that burn me now
Which turn golden when I am happy.
Do you see the mystery of our pain?
That we bear poverty
And are able to sing and dream sweet things

And that we never curse the air when it is warm
Or the fruit when it tastes so good
Or the lights that bounce gently on the waters?
We bless things even in our pain.
We bless them in silence.

That is why our music is so sweet.
It makes the air remember.
There are secret miracles at work
That only Time will bring forth.
I too have heard the dead singing.

And they tell me that
This life is good
They tell me to live it gently
With fire, and always with hope.
There is wonder here

And there is surprise
In everything the unseen moves.
The ocean is full of songs.
The sky is not an enemy.
Destiny is our friend.”

— Ben Okri

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Filed under African Lit, For Lovers, Readers and Me

10 Great Opening Lines in Afro-Literature

Every great writer knows the importance of the opening text. Not only is it the author’s first shot at engaging the reader, it also sets the tone for the entire novel.  A truly great incipit, as evidenced by the examples below, will also foreshadow theme, structure, plot and even conflict.

Let’s face it, a strong opening is perhaps the best indication of a strong text.  So let’s take a look at a few of the most profound within the Afro-literary genre:

“On the morning of her ninth birthday, the day after Madame Francoise Derbane slapped her, Suzette peed on the rosebushes.” – Lalita Tademy, Cane River

“You better not never tell nobody but God.” – Alice Walker, The Color Purple

“We are on our way to Budapest: Bastard and Chipo and Godknows and Sbho and Stina and me.” – NoViolet Bulawayo, We Need New Names

“A dwelling.” – Nuruddin Farah, From a Crooked Rib

“I was not sorry when my brother died.” – Tsitsi Dangarembga, Nervous Conditions

“124 was spiteful.” – Toni Morrison, Beloved

“Early in the morning, late in the century, Cricklewood Broadway.” – Zadie Smith, White Teeth

“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish aboard.” – Zora Neal Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

“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.” – Ben Okri, The Famished Road

“They say it came from Africa, carried in the screams of the enslaved; that it was the death bane of the Tainos, uttered just as one world perished and another began; that it was a demon drawn into Creation through the nightmare door that was cracked open in the Antilles.” – Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

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Filed under African Lit, Afro-American Lit, Afro-Caribbean Lit, Afro-European Lit