cover image Songs of Enchantment

Songs of Enchantment

Ben Okri. Nan A. Talese, $21 (297pp) ISBN 978-0-385-47154-1

All is not well in the African village where Azaro lives. The child narrator of poet and novelist Okri's The Famished Road , who had outwitted death in the previous book, again relates the oppressive events that continue to plague his village and his family. While political factionalization shatters the community's cohesiveness, the prodigious bar owner Madame Koto, chief exponent of the ``Party of the Rich,'' alternately exudes portentous metaphysical malaise and miraculous erotic force. Little Azaro, himself touched and distracted by a series of animuses, follows the heels of ``dad,'' who is a resounding vessel, by turns, of cantankerous egotism and abased self-sacrifice. This Nigerian epic reveals a violent provincial world, opaque with magical spirits which place horrendous ethical demands on fragile and fickle humanity, as if to test each individual for a thread of virtuous constancy at the core. Events drench the essentially linear narrative with all the ruthless sensuousness of a tropical storm, and Okri's prose is lucid and deft: ``His limbs shook and he was bathed in radiance, as if his fit were a sweet juice that he was drinking, or as if it were sunlight to the feverish.'' A difficulty with Okri's ambitious performance, however, is its relative indifference to dramatic development; experience violates characters, but does not always deepen them. However, readers will note the subtle moral inquiry which gradually wells up within the work, and will admire its patient musing on the problem of evil. Author tour. (Oct.)