cover image The Freedom Artist

The Freedom Artist

Ben Okri. Akashic, $16.95 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-61775-792-1

This haunting and inspiring novel from Booker winner Okri (The Famished Road) follows a man’s search for a woman who goes missing in a dystopian world. An oppressive and faceless “Hierarchy” dominates the world, in which people move through their days in a state of near-catatonia, sensing but helplessly fearing their subjugation. The citizens are largely numbed, but some, such as young woman Amalantis, dare to speak out. After Amalantis courageously asks, “Who is the prisoner?” she is abruptly arrested for posing a taboo, revolutionary question, and her lover, Karnak, embarks on a quest to find her. He roams the streets seeking answers from whoever dares to speak with him. Karnak watches the populace grow increasingly resistant to the Hierarchy’s oppression, first through ubiquitous screams in the night, and then through an epidemic of nervous breakdowns that occur randomly among the public, which can only be resolved by a transcendental awakening. Karnak’s search is juxtaposed against the spiritual trials of a man named Mirababa, who travels through mystical, otherworldly realms, where he meets beings who offer perplexing guidance on his quest to understand true freedom. In this story of political abuse and existential angst, Okri employs a powerful and rare style reminiscent of free verse and evoking a mythical timbre. This is a vibrantly immediate and penetrating novel of ideas. Agent: Georgina Capel, Georgina Capel Associates. (Feb.)