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A society sleepwalks towards destruction in Okri’s deeply felt allegorical novelThe notion of the human condition as a prison or a dream state runs through western literature, from Plato through to Boethius, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Calderón de la Barca and all the way to Kafka, Camus, Borges and plenty more. Ben Okri’s 11th novel, The Freedom Artist, invokes all these preceding stories in a multilayered allegorical narrative that cuts to the heart of our current political and cultural malaise, while maintaining a mythical, mesmeric flavour that makes the reader feel these are stories they have always known. In a 2018 interview with the Guardian, Okri described his life project as trying to do something new with “that great oceanic tide of African fables and stories that I grew up on – what I call the vast invisible literature”. This image – of an invisible literature that permeates the collective consciousness – becomes literal reality in The Freedom Artist – inasmuch as anything in a magic realist world can be described as literal. Continue reading...