A young man’s journey of self-discovery leads him to the last place he ever expected in Ben Okri’s novel Astonishing the Gods.
Determined to find out why his people are invisible to everyone but themselves, an unnamed young man embarks on a years-long voyage. On his travels, he encounters an island of opposites, challenges, and riddles: a changeling bridge that is suspended only by the weight of the person crossing it, a beautiful yet monstrous gate that guards a city run by the invisible inhabitants’ thoughts and dreams, and a people who can be heard but not seen. If he wishes to stay on the island, the young man must learn to appreciate the true value and purpose of invisibility.
The island’s founders, the Invisibles, are shrouded in dream and mystery. All the young man ever learns—all he ever needs to learn—is that the Invisibles have suffered years of unbearable torment, and that they have risen from the depths to build a remarkable, enlightened civilization from their own suffering. The exquisite architecture and magical atmosphere of their island is but a distraction: it is not the island’s beauty that makes it special, but rather the invisible virtues that support the grand façades and drive the never-ending journey toward perfection.
The novel’s deeper meaning remains purposely elusive. It is meant to be evaluated and interpreted through the intangible traits that the Invisibles value so highly: thought, creativity, innovation, grace. The prose—colorful and detailed yet somehow ethereal—is best enjoyed but not understood, for, as one of the protagonist’s invisible guides insists, “It is only mystery which keeps things alive.”
Astonishing the Gods is a pithy allegorical novel about the power of the unseen.
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