The Freedom Artist

Akashic. Feb. 2020. 336p. ISBN 9781617757914. $30.95. F
“Upwake!” That startling command appears on the sidewalks and buildings in a land without books, where words are dangerous and questions deadly. Mirababa asks his grandpa, “What is freedom?” Amalantis courageously posits, “Who is the prisoner?” Their answers? Silence. When Amalantis disappears, her lover, Karnak, must break through the stasis, braving death to search for the place where those who dare to speak up against the Hierarchy are hidden. Okri employs simple sentences and brief chapters to invoke an alarming and complex parable of a world on the edge, where up is down and down is up. But readers shouldn’t fool themselves into believing that this is another dystopian tale of the future; it feels all too current. Like the prisoners in Plato’s cave, we have complacently accepted its bland existence, unable to remember that there was once, and could be again, another reality where words deliver freedom rather than condemnation.
VERDICT Like George Orwell and Margaret Atwood before him, the Booker Prize–winning Okri (The Famished Road) writes a passionate cri de coeur, a clarion call to activists everywhere to resist apathy and recognize that we are all on this beautiful globe together and that it is ours to lose.
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