Friday, 8 February 2019

The Freedom Artist - Ben Okri

This is one of the books that leaves me breathless almost and wondering where to start to say anything about it that will do it the full justice it deserves. So many myriad thoughts and memories raced through my head. You know that thing where they say that your whole life flashes before your eyes just before you die? I had a sense of that with this book as I read the opening chapters. Images of these flickered in and out.

Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner, 
Kafka, Orwell, His Dark Materials,  
The Scream,The Enchanted Wood, 
   Fahrenheit 451, 1984, The Castle, The Trial. 
The Tower of Babel, Genesis.

It felt like Kafka had rewritten 1984! And I was elated to find Kafka alluded to in the latter stages of the book. It is the work and prose of a poet but not just a poet of words, a poet of thought with an all seeing eye. Not an angry, bitter reproachful poet but a philosophical, spiritual and optimistic poet. It’s offered as fiction yet it transcends definition as it presents as sometime fable, sometime allegory, sometime prophecy, sometime chronicle, sometime fairy tale, parts were almost Biblical with significant numerical allusions like 7 and 40, parts were magical. Page after page containing the wisdom of our ages. 

The notion that we are all living in a prison is not necessarily an original thought. It was touched on recently by Elizabeth Lowry in the magnificent Dark Water where the main narrator, Hiram Carver ,affirms ‘..we cling to our false certainty and call it freedom and we can’t see what we’ve really created out of freedom is a prison.’ Okri’s book takes the concept further and beyond. The book could be considered a manifesto for our times. It touches on so much of what is ‘rotten in the state of Denmark’, but Okri deals with it in a manner almost unemotional but with the result that it stirs emotion most profoundly. An economic use of prose with some simply stated sentences that are easy to read and complex to digest in part form this fiction. It’s as if the writer has subjected very word to scrutiny and ensured that he has chosen the exact, right one every time, the exact right number of words, nothing is wasted. The result is an exacting, powerful, elegant manifesto for our times.

I once opined that one of the ways in which a book might be deemed literature is if it were quotable in a meaningful sense. I felt that almost all of this book contained quotable dictums and epigrams. They jump out of practically every sentence. I have my favourites! And I have to restrict myself or I’d be quoting the whole book.

She understood that the world was not what it seemed. She understood that reversal was the way. She understood the true things was upside down. She grasped that those who thought they knew were ignorant, that those who thought they had power were powerless and that those who thought they knew themselves were in great darkness.

Listen with your heart and your wisdom. The world is a prison which you must transcend. Then you will know true freedom and you will find that it is very different to what anyone has ever said.

Okri identifies how as a race so many of us have lost our inherent spirituality. And if we could all recapture that we might have a chance of fleeing these restraints. The book is universal. There is no attempt to vilify any one separate discipline, politics, religion etc, as being the reason for our incarceration. 

As far as characterisations go the main cast is small, the supporting cast, though, almost infinite, for it is ourselves. Mirababa, a young boy, innocent until he loses his grandfather, Karnak ignorant until he loses love. Amalantis and Ruslana who either never lose their spirituality or seize the opportunity to develop it whilst maybe kicking against the perceived norms.

Thank you Head of Zeus for a limited edition proof copy. I think this is a great book. I think this is an important book. It will only lose its relevance and potency if things change rapidly. We all know they won’t. But this book urges us to remove our proverbial heads from our proverbial arses, look around at who we are and what we have become and - 


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