Ben Okri’s Infinite Riches is the third volume of The Famished Road trilogy about the spirit child, Azaro (The Famished Road was Okri’s first). Having read The Famished Road earlier on, and, thus, been introduced to Okri’s beautiful writing, I had high expectations for this book. Thankfully, the beauty of The Famished Road carries on into this third volume. Initially, I did not feel comfortable going into this book because I had not yet read the second volume, ‘Songs of Enchantment’. But by the end of reading this volume, my discomfort was gone.
Okri dedicates Infinite Riches to his mother, Grace Okri, as revealed in the interesting poem before the story itself begins. The novel is divided into books – as in Book One, Book Two, Book Three and so forth. The first chapter of Book One is the seed from which the story itself geminates. I think quoting it here would be of great help to all readers:
‘Who can be certain where the end begins?’ said Dad, shortly before he was arrested for the murder of the carpenter, “ Time is growing,” he added, “And our suffering is growing too. When will our suffering bear fruit? One great thought can alter the future of the world. One revelation. One dream. But who will dream that dream?”
Azaro, a young boy who sees beyond the physical world is the narrator in this story. His father who is often referred to as Dad is arrested for a murder he did not commit. It is the carpenter who has been murdered. Azaro’s mother, Mum is angered at the arrest of Dad and searches for him all over the town. Seven elite women join Mum in looking for Dad. They move from one police station to another and all through town making their presence known and demanding the release of Dad. But will Dad be released? Is he innocent? Will the eight women succeed in bringing Dad home, away from prison?
Although I had read The Famished Road quite a long time ago, I was able to link up most of the major characters that appeared in this volume to the former. For instance, the photographer who often takes pictures at rally grounds and at major events and gatherings made me remember this same activity of his in the earlier volume. Also, the appearance of Madam Koto in this volume reminded me of the bar she owned and how Azaro used to go there often.
As the story unfolds, Okri introduces political themes just like in the first volume. For instance, this narrative tells of the persona of the Governor – General (Page 236):
‘It was indeed a splendid road. It had been built by the natives, supervised by the Governor – General. He dreamt that on this beautiful road all Africa’s wealth, its gold and diamonds and diverse mineral resources, its food, its energies, its labors, its intelligence would be transported to his land, to enrich the lives of his people across the green ocean.’
Okri brilliantly exposes the activities of the party of the rich as against the supposed party belonging to the poor. In the heat of politics and at rally grounds, one speaker from the party belonging to the rich says (Page 261):
“Victory is ours already. We have own. We bring power to the people. We bring wealth and stability. Those who vote for us will enjoy, those who don’t will eat dustbins!”
You will love this passage. Following riots and disturbances at the rally grounds comes the time for escape. From Page 286:
“The august group of leaders got into their cars but the crowd smashed the windscreens, and turned the cars on their sides. The policemen lashed at the crowd, hipped the possessed women, clubbed down the enraged men. But the Governor – General and the future Head of State managed to get through the tumultuous crowd to a convoy of soldiers, who immediately formed a protective cordon round them. The leaders were ushered into a police car and, sirens blasting, sped through the crowd.”
Okri’s Infinite Riches is beautifully written prose, just as poetic as his other volumes. At one point, I would get lost in the story but then I would find my way back as I read on and on. Most of the chapters are very, very short and easy to get through. Okri’s imaginary prowess is undeniable. I certainly must look for the second volume so as to complete the whole cycle.