In Ben Okri's The Famished Road, there is a peculiar contrast that shows up in Azaro's knowledge of the setting and the problems his family faces. The character is a child, and this of course comes with some narrative craft challenges - the problems faced by the family are more complex than the narrative can sustain from the point of view of a child alone.

There are times, however, when I feel as though the book so directly contrasts the naivete of a child with the cold brutality of the world the family lives in that it seems the text is almost insistent that I take the narrative at its literal face value -- that I assess Azaro does personally understand certain complexities of the world that he does not otherwise let on.

In other words, I've noticed the book has a tendency to repeat a specific pattern:

  1. Azaro misunderstands a situation due to a naive assumption that a child might make, and usually later feel foolish about.
  2. Shortly afterwards (often next paragraph), Azaro accurately portrays the exact reasons why something has happened, that might notionally be understood as "out of the conceptual reach of a child."

Here is an example (book five, chapter one):

Sometimes it rained so much that the containers filled up and overflowed, and the floor covered in water. The first time that happened I woke up thinking I had wet the mat. My amazement bordered on horror when I thought I had pissed so much in my sleep. I got up and quietly tried to clean the urine. Mum woke up. I felt ashamed. Then, I realized the trick the rain god was playing on me.
It got so awful that we couldn't find a place that wasn't leaking. We ended up settling for having the water drip on our feet. Dad complained to the landlord, but he merely threatened to increase the rent further if he fixed the roof. We couldn't afford the rent as it stood so we had no choice but to settle for being soaked through at night.

Taken alone I might not think further about this - the issue of housing and rent instability have been defining features of Azaro's childhood home life. However, taken as a part of a possible pattern, the narrative seems to directly call attention to the fact that Azaro actually understands the function of "rent," its relationship to their landlord, and their housing woes. (The surrounding context also makes me belive this is supposed to represent an evolution in Azaro's understanding of his family's woes, but this is a bit long for a question already.)

Is this pattern real? Is there textual evidence enough to establish whether it may be intentional? It seems plausible, but both of these things happen often enough that I may simply be seeing a false pattern...


1 Answer 1


I'm not familiar with this particular work, but what you're describing is common in real or fictional memoirs. The effect is a doubled consciousness between the actual child, and the adult who, many years later, is remembering and recounting the story. In describing his fear of wetting the bed, the narrator is placing himself in the mindset of his younger self, whereas the discussion of the rent borrows from his adult understanding of the situation.

Whether you consider this an artful technique or a POV error might depend on your tastes as a reader. Are you wanting to maintain the illusion this is being narrated by an actual child, or is the addition of the adult perspective a welcome one?

  • I think an answer in the context of the narrative may be required. It's not clear at this spot in the story whether Azaro even grows up to be an adult, or if he dies / is otherwise reclaimed by the spirits before he grows to that age. IOW you'd be right, but there's no indication to this point that there is supposed to be an adult consciousness present - we are, essentially, not supposed to think of the narrator as an adult at all - and the way the story is developed (doesn't fit in a comment) makes me doubt two-sided consciousness is the intent...
    – Slate
    Oct 19 at 14:44

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