Illuminating haiku-like stories from Okri

2009-07-29 00:00


Tales of Freedom

Ben Okri


TALES of Freedom, by Nigerian writer, Ben Okri, probably best known for his Booker prizewinning, The Famished Road, consists of one long, though insubstantial and enigmatic, story, The Comic Destiny, and 13 short pieces which Okri dubs stokus.

Stoku is a portmanteau word formed by combining “story” and “haiku” and, like the latter, intended to capture in words a fleeting image or insight. As a whole, the work reveals a writer deeply concerned about the nature of man and of the world and perhaps consoled by the view, expressed in The Mission, that after destination death the spirit of the individual is liberated into a luminous realm.

The Comic Destiny is an elusive ­little tale, reminiscent of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, in which the contemporary world is presented as a bleak place through which ­allegorical characters travel confusedly, sometimes criminally, acrimoniously and, despite being in relationships, essentially alone and in denial, towards the only real destination, death.

Ultimately, in a reversal of the biblical version of the creation of the universe, and despite the injunction, “Let there be light”, darkness descends, the known world, symbolised by a white building, is destroyed and ­nakedly, New Man and New Woman emerge, in an apparent attempt at ­reconstruction, according to Edenic principles of empathy with the environment, fellowship and love.

On the whole, the stokus are more accessible. The most effective of them deal with war — the seemingly natural condition of humankind.

In Music for a Ruined City, written in little snatches, like short pieces of music, an orchestra is heard playing Mozart amid the rubble of a bombed city. While the music soothes the ­ruins, it also reminds us of man’s ­potential to be civilised and cultivated rather than destructive.

In Wild Bulls, the paintings produced by children orphaned in war reveal their trauma. Huge canvases feature fantastical hybrid beasts and bulls, the works of children whose homes have been bombed and whose parents are ghosts. And in The War Healer, a former photojournalist opts to nurture the wounded and bury the dead on both sides.

Other stokus highlight human ­foibles of chicanery, greed, suspicion and prejudice; and human frailties of both mind and body.

Okri’s work is deceptive — easy to read and difficult to process. It is not for the casual reader.

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.