cover image Prayer for the Living

Prayer for the Living

Ben Okri. Akashic, $22.95 (216p) ISBN 978-1-61775-863-8

Booker-winner Okri (The Freedom Artist) delivers a sprawling collection that spans continents, centuries, and the border between the real and the supernatural. Told in alternating flash fictions and longer works, the stories all evoke the cadence of origin myths and oral history. There are modern-day fables like “In the Ghetto,” which features a life lesson taught by a father to his sons after their car breaks down and no one helps them, and “A Sinister Perfection,” in which a child’s dollhouse has real-world ramifications in the vein of the classic W.W. Jacob story “The Monkey’s Paw.” Others offer vivid portraits of a real and troubled world: three stories titled “Boko Haram” follow the terrorist group, and others take place in war-torn landscapes or on boats attempting to carry refugees across the Mediterranean, such as the brief “Raft”: “There were men in the water clinging to the raft and wearing life jackets.... The women and children were in the sea, and the sea was in the raft.” These visceral, brief depictions of violence and fear are the most powerful of the collection. This is as an essential reminder of the timeless and vital nature of storytelling. (Feb.)