Booker winner with a love of enchantment and astonishment
This article is from 2007.
Impoverished student, witness to the Nigerian civil war, paint shop employee, poetry editor for West Africa magazine, and BBC broadcaster, Ben Okri is now a much-lauded writer. Five years in the writing, his latest novel Starbook is a tale of slavery in Africa, told, Okri hopes, in a new way. ‘I wanted to tell the truth, but not for it to be so horrible you wouldn’t want to read on. I wrote about it with humanity, hoping to render the inhuman human. It took a long time to get my mind into a place where it could be done. It’s a special journey I’ve taken. I wouldn’t bother readers otherwise.’
Telling a story, the writer is providing a service, he says, their function to create enchantment. ‘I remember from my earliest reading, I read with my eyes wide open; my mind’s eye widened in wonder. In the age we live in, we are bombarded with images that shock us and it makes a novelist’s job harder because people are cautious, more protective of their sense of wonder.’
Okri wants to astonish the heart, as the brain can be easier to get to. ‘A writer takes you off for a time and keeps you there. Their job is to create a world that’s pleasant to be in, but the reader does the greater part of the writing because the image is in their mind rather than the book. The reader goes to bed with them, sleeps with them, brings them to life.’ (Katie Gould)
24 Aug, 1.30pm, £7 (£5).