Ben Okri’s unique Booker Prize-winning epic, narrated by ‘an unwilling adventurer into chaos and sunlight, into the dreams of the living and the dead’.

The narrator, Azaro, is an abiku, a spirit child, who in the Yoruba tradition of Nigeria exists between life and death. The life he foresees for himself and the tale he tells are full of sadness and tragedy, but inexplicably he is born with a smile on his face. Nearly called back to the realm of the dead, he is resurrected to confront the tension between the land of the living, often joyful despite violence and political struggles, and the temptations of the carefree kingdom of the spirits.

The Booker Prize 1991
Published by
Jonathan Cape
Publication date
Ben Okri

Ben Okri

About the Author

Ben Okri OBE is a poet, playwright and novelist. His novel The Famished Road won the Booker Prize for Fiction in 1991.
More about Ben Okri

The Famished Road is fed by the dreams of literature

The song inspired by The Famished Road

The Famished Road struck such a chord with Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke that he wrote a song inspired by the book.

Originally called Three-Headed Street Spirit, the song eventually became Street Spirit (Fade Out).

Speaking on the Canadian TV show Musique Plus in 1993, Yorke said: ‘The image that I had in my head when I wrote the song was from a book by a guy called Ben Okri… It’s a very weird book, and I like it so much I wrote a song from it.’

Long in the telling, like a great epic poem, Okri's tale is a beautifully rendered allegory, enriched by its African setting, of love powerful enough to defy even death and his minions

The winning moment

Ben Okri’s The Famished Road ‘gives us an idea what it would be like to be a spirit-child, growing up in the struggles of modern Nigeria’, chair of judges Jeremy Treglown said in his speech at the 1991 ceremony.

Accepting his award, Okri referred to the cheque he’d received and said: ‘When my first novel was published I went home and my father rather cunningly got together all the elders of our town and they contributed a certain amount of money impromptu to buy me a pen to carry on writing. I suppose this will buy me quite a lot of pens.’

Okri also read a poem he’d written, saying he did ‘not have any talent for speeches’.

Ending his remarks, he said: ‘I dedicate this prize to all those who struggle and who suffer in silence and in public and who never stop fighting and always keep on dreaming.’

Ben Okri wins the 1991 Booker Prize

I remember the years before, the length of time, the struggle, the effort to find a new voice to tell a new kind of story'