cover image Astonishing the Gods

Astonishing the Gods

Ben Okri. Other Press, $15.99 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-63542-265-8

Booker winner Okri (The Famished Road) combines allegory and Yoruba folklore in this illuminating outing, first published in the U.K. in 1995. The unnamed protagonist was born invisible and feels out of place in his hometown. He travels for seven years, hoping to understand “the secret of invisibility,” and finds a city of “beautiful solitude.” Understanding nothing of his purpose in life, he encounters many obstacles, all of which become “a dream and a sign” of his spiritual and intellectual mission. He crosses a perilous bridge to enter a city where riddles abound, confronts voices he must learn to interpret, and wrestles with dangerous figures such as an equestrian wielding an axe. Along the way, he is instructed by guides who lead him to his true nature (“Your bewilderment will serve you well,” one says). Only by conquering these stages will he learn that by letting go of preconceived notions can he reach the truth. The episodic structure and beautiful poetic language perfectly complement the hero’s journey. The narrative’s kaleidoscopic nature has a transformative effect on the reader, making it deserving of a cult classic status. (Feb.)