A young woman Amalantis asked a question, which caused her to disappear. Desperate to find her, her lover Karnak begins his search, only to realize he didn’t really understand the question she had asked. “Who is the prisoner?”, asked Amalantis.
The Freedom Artist by Ben Okri is a weird book. It is the story of a society unpleasantly reminiscent of our own. This world is dominated by the faceless men of the Hierarchy where, asking questions and reading books are considered dangerous activities. Yet hope and trouble brews in the form of an underground resistance. Men and women who seek to find answers and their freedom, incite people to “Upwake”.
With this book, poet Okri has created an allegory for our world – the cultural and political stagnation that is leading to the visible demise of society. In the story, people live their lives as if asleep, immune to the chaos and misery surrounding them. This empty existence discourages curiosity, creativity and even thought. Revolutionaries are hunted, incarcerated and devoured.
In spite of the strange nature of the book, Okri’s writing has a very lyrical quality and as a reader, the entire story feels like a dreamscape. This surrealist nature is what makes the book even more impactful as you realize it is quite literally the world around you. The Freedom Artist leans heavily on references from myths and folklore from around the world. In the book itself, people try to recreate old myths to understand the meaning of Amalantis’s question. Okri talks about how manipulation of myths is a powerful tool to control the way people think and respond to their lives.
The Freedom Artist has a very specific purpose. It is written, not merely for enjoyment, but as an ignition. In a post-truth society, we are constantly bombarded with alternate facts on every screen. This book reflects back to the reader, these troubling aspects of our society- the vocal hate, the divisive politics and the demonization of the truth that we are being constantly inundated with. “Upwake!”, urges the book, because the most powerful weapon we possess is our intellectual and spiritual freedom.
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