Prayer for the Living

Akashic. Feb. 2021. 216p. ISBN 9781617758638. $24.95. F
Penetrating Okri’s mind is like tumbling down a rabbit hole, a mesmerizing trip into a landscape of bemusement and ambiguity, where time exists on multiple planes. In fact, one story about a detective investigating a crime that has not yet been committed is aptly titled “Alternative Realities Are True,” which could be the theme for this collection of tales and fables involving miniature houses, a cursed door from Newgate prison, and a mysterious mirror used by Rosicrucian spiritualists. In the devastating title piece, the narrator searches for family in the ruins left by rampaging soldiers, the agony of the survivors starkly contrasting with the hauntingly joyful songs emanating from the souls of the dead. And in the exquisite “Byzantium,” a man’s imagined idyll in Istanbul feels more lifelike than his reality, particularly when, at the Blue Mosque, he leans a hand against a stone pillar and senses a oneness with every being who came before.
VERDICT Booker Prize–winning poet and novelist Okri (The Famished Road) creates a dreamlike atmosphere in one story, whipsaws the reader into a horrifying triptych about Boko Haram in the next, and then calms with unexpectedly gentle humor. There is something to entice or challenge every reader in this eclectic repertoire.
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