Ben Okri is a natural talent. In 1980 he left Nigeria for London, where for years he lived in great poverty, sometimes even homeless. Since he won the Booker Prize with his debut The Famished Road in 1991, he has enjoyed world fame.
Apart from The Famished Road, his ghost-child trilogy featuring the young boy Azaro consists of Songs of Enchantment, and was recently concluded with Infinite Riches. Critics have responded enthusiastically to Ben Okri’s work. Take for instance Dutch critic Ed van Eeden who, writing on Infinite Riches, tipped Okri as a future Nobel Prize winner: ‘Once you’ve finished the final part of the Ghost-child trilogy, after days of feverish reading, you notice the uprooting and bewildering influence of Okri’s dream prose. The world is no longer the same [...] There aren’t many writers that can convey to the reader the same penetrating power of imagination. Julio Cortázar and Danilo Kis did, Gabriel García Márquez and Salman Rushdie can. And Ben Okri can too: he is one of the greatest.’
In addition to writing prose, Okri has published poetry. Recently his millennium poem Mental Fight appeared, dedicated ‘to humanity in the age of Aquarius’. In eight sections Okri paints man’s fate and offers a broad perspective on the new age. At the end of this long and compelling poem, Okri shows that he knows his classics. In fact, what he conjures up in his grand and visionary style is the idea of man’s creative capacity. Mental Fight is an ode to language and to the spirit of mankind. Azaro lives on.
[Ben Okri took part in the Poetry International Festival Rotterdam 2000. This text was written on that occasion.]
An African Elegy (1992); Mental Fight (1999)