From the Backlist: Astonishing the Gods

Astonishing the Gods, Ben Okri (1995)

When I first read this book in 2004 at the recommendation of my mentor in grad school, I was immediately enchanted by the vivid and mysterious world Ben Okri created. At the time it seemed that Astonishing the Gods was destined to be a modern classic, but it seems to have fallen off the radar over the past eighteen years. (Though it has recently come back into print, which is a great sign!) Astonishing the Gods is a kind of creation myth, the story of a young man who realizes one day that his people are invisible to the world and goes off to discover the secret of visibility and has his world undone and remade in the process.

This is not a plot-heavy book, or for that matter, even a character-heavy book. It is a world unto its own, an atmospheric journey through a mysterious city, a journey designed to speak wisdom and truth more than to ‘tell a story.’ I’m not generally a big fan of this sort of atmospheric read; I want my books to tell me a story and tell it well. But it for me because, I think, it sucked me in immediately, but also it’s a very easy and quick read, so I didn’t get bogged down in the atmospherics. And I’m so glad it did work for me. I don’t think there is a fiction book that has impacted the way I think and am in the world more than this one. A recent re-read made me realize just how many things I think, say, and believe in large part because of how Okri writes about them in this book: profound truths like being bound to repeat things until we truly experience them, learning what we already know, and the blessing and curse of loving without illusion.

Read this if you’re interested in:

  • New myths
  • African literature
  • Wisdom
  • Love
  • Learning
  • Coming of Age


“On this island of ours learning what you know is something you have to do every day, and every moment.”

“Don’t despair too much if you see beautiful things destroyed, if you see them perish. Because the best things are always growing in secret.”

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