Nigeria, homeland of Ben Okri's imagination
In the elegant garden of Mantua's Palazzo San Sebastiano, in the cool air of a late summer evening newly refreshed by rain showers, Ben Okri took the audience on a journey of mythology, spirituality and stories. In conversation with Peter Florence, the Nigerian author led a pilgrimage through his life and initiation to literature, both classical and Nigerian.
Okri writes about what makes him angry; what leaves him enraged and sleepless. That is how he began writing and how he continues to this day. Everything in Nigeria is instantly mythologised: he “broke his hands” when his classical education wasn’t able to express the fullness of the stories he wanted to write. Okri's own analysis of his work allows us to picture vividly the richness, fertility, and mischief that is Nigeria.
The author talked of televisions that become “houses of stories” and cars that become “story transporters”. One of his early novels, The Famished Road, features an abiku child. Abiku are children who have died and have been reborn. The word is made up of two parts; abi meaning “that which is born” and ku meaning “death”. They are frightening creatures who, when reborn, try to die as quickly as they can and constantly move between the living and the spirit worlds. His mother’s stories heavily influenced his elliptical structure and style of writing, his endings replicate the structure of traditional Nigerian stories which are entirely cyclical. When you grow up with cyclical stories about characters such as the abiku children the idea of an “end” becomes ridiculous.