The Famished Road
by Ben Okri
(Winner of the 1991 Booker Prize)
This is the story of Azaro, an abiku, or spirit child. The abiku are children who hover eternally between the real and spirit worlds. Azaro is born on the eve of Nigerian independence to a poor couple living in the ghetto. He decides to come out of limbo and to stay in the world of the living to "make happy the bruised face of the woman who would become my mother" But his spirit companions are constantly trying to lure Azaro back into their world.
Azaro's dilemma is whether to stay and struggle with his parents - to walk "the famished road" or to escape back to his carefree life in limbo. The ghetto is a harsh place full of crime, poverty and disease and political wrangling. The characters that live there are fascinating, like the local bar owner Madame Koto and the photographer who documents the life of the village. Lurking in the background is a host of spirits - good and bad.
It is the strength of the human spirit and the power of love that draw one into this book. It teems with symbolism and magic and is not for the faint-hearted (I found it thoroughly spooky) and it is long but the writing is so rich and poetic that you will be mesmerised to the last unforgettable line.
If your group is after a challenging read and has plenty of time and patience then The Famished Road is a book that will meet your needs.