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The Freedom Artist


An impassioned plea for freedom and justice, set in a world uncomfortably like our own, by the Booker Prize-winner Ben Okri.

$16.95 $12.71

What people are saying…

An NPR Best Book of 2020

Nominated for the 2021 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award in Fiction!

“With the stark power of myth, this political allegory evolves into an argument for artistic freedom.”
New York Times Book Review, a New & Noteworthy selection

“A perfect read for a post-truth era.”

Longlisted for the 2021 Nommo Award for Best Novel, presented by the African Speculative Fiction Society!

The Freedom Artist . . . can be read as a kind of revision of Plato’s allegory of the cave, in which art, rather than offering distracting illusions, can tap into foundational truths and help us free ourselves from the prison of existence. The concise, declarative prose and the parable-like architecture of the stories resemble ancient forms of wisdom literature.”
Wall Street Journal

“With a slow burn arc emblematic of Toni Cade Bambara’s The Salt Eaters, and prophetic warnings of apocalypse akin to Octavia Butler’s The Parable of the Sower, The Freedom Artist offers a contemplative look at post-truth society.”
Sierra Magazine

“In Okri’s dystopian version of our reality, the world is a totalitarian state, ruled by an anonymous but powerful authority known as the Hierarchy. When a woman goes missing after painting a simple question—’Who is the prisoner?’—on a public wall, her lover sets out to find (and hopefully save) her. His journey takes him through a dismal landscape, inhabited by people terrified of—but also resisting—their subjugation.”
BuzzFeed, one of BuzzFeed’s Most Anticipated Books of 2020

“Booker Prize winner Okri’s lyrical allegory combines fable, folklore, and mythology with moments of surreal horror to produce a rallying cry against the oppressive institutions that would seek to make knowledge illegal.”
Locus Magazine, New & Notable selection

“This here is the heart of The Freedom Artist: a deep appreciation of literature, storytelling, and flights of the imagination; a condemnation of the tendency to dumb down great works of art; and the overriding message that true freedom can be found in the pages of a book.”
Locus Magazine

The Freedom Artist reads like a myth written by a scientist and is brilliantly composed . . . We emerge with a glimmer of light, of hope, and a wake-up call just when we need it most.”
Smoky Mountain News

“Man Booker–winner Okri’s modern allegory specifies and beautifully renders the impact on the human spirit when people are deprived of history and truth. Written with a striking simplicity that belies the significance of its message, Okri’s tale is especially resonant in our current post-truth environment.”
Booklist, Starred review

“Haunting and inspiring . . . In this story of political abuse and existential angst, Okri employs a powerful and rare style reminiscent of free verse and evoking a mythical timbre. This is a vibrantly immediate and penetrating novel of ideas.”
Publishers Weekly, Starred review

“Like George Orwell and Margaret Atwood before him, the Booker Prize–winning Okri 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.”
Library Journal

“Okri’s somber, fablelike novel is a call to rally against oppressive institutions and for broader social consciousness. In that regard, it’s an inheritor of The Handmaid’s Tale, Fahrenheit 451, and Things Fall Apart . . . Okri’s writing is sturdy and graceful, fully inhabiting the authoritative tone of mythmaking.”
Kirkus Reviews

The Freedom Artist is a fable-like allegory set in a dystopian future in which the ‘Hierarchy’ is dominant, the citizens trapped and muted, except sometimes when they are heard screaming in their sleep. It is through this world that Karnak must travel to find his lover, who has been arrested for asking the question: ‘Who is the prisoner?'”
Literary Hub, one of the Most Anticipated Books of 2020

“A call for rally against oppression, following the arterial vein of The Handmaid’s Tale and Fahrenheit 451 . . . Addictive.”
Bookstr, a Three to Read Hot Pick selection

Selected as Publishers Weekly’s Book of the Week!

Selected as one of Booklist Reader’s Best New Books of the Week!

One of BookMarks’s Best Reviewed Books of the Week!

Included in BookRiot’s February 2020 Indie Press Round-Up

Included in Publishers Weekly’s Literary Fiction Adult Announcements for Spring 2020; Notable African-American Titles for Fall 2019-Spring 2020; African-American Interest Adult Titles, Fall 2019–Spring 2020; Science Fiction and Fantasy Preview for 2019-2020; and Science Fiction and Fantasy Preview for 2019-2020 (African Diaspora–inspired SFF)!

Included in Locus Magazine’s New Book Roundup

“Flows with unflinching beauty and profound wisdom and grace.”
Exclusive Magazine

“Where fiction’s master of enchantments stares down a real horror, and without blinking or flinching, produces a work of beauty, grace, and uncommon power.”
Marlon James, author of Black Leopard, Red Wolf

The Freedom Artist represents a heady jumble of influence and inspiration, a tapestry of biblical reference, mythology, folklore and fable. The lyrical simplicity of Okri’s prose, with its short sentences and chapters, only heightens the power of the novel’s political message.”
Financial Times

“A multilayered allegorical narrative that cuts to the heart of our current political and cultural malaise, while maintaining a mythical, mesmeric flavor that makes the reader feel these are stories they have always known . . . It’s savagely political, disturbing and fiercely optimistic, the deeply felt work of a writer who refuses to stop asking the hardest questions.”
Guardian (UK)

“Just as you’re thinking, ‘So this is what Dave Eggers’s The Circle would be like if it were written by a poet,’ Okri slips you a shot of ayahuasca and things get decidedly freaky and apocalyptic . . . A beautiful and timely appeal for the importance of books, subversive stories and love.”
The Times (UK)

“A meditation on the threat to freedom represented by the emergence of what is already called ‘a post-truth society’ . . . It’s a novel for our times.“
Scotsman (UK)

“The book posits the theory that we are all in an inescapable prison . . . The novel is written in a postmodern style reminiscent of Henry Miller or William Burroughs.”

“Okri creates a chilling atmosphere in The Freedom Artist . . . Okri’s rhythmic, folk tale–like prose is beguiling.”
Sunday Times (UK)

“Ben Okri’s most significant novel since his Man Booker Prize-winning masterpiece The Famished Road, The Freedom Artist weaves together ancient myth and modern politics for an impassioned story primed for the post-truth age. A story of love and loss, fiercely told and impossible to ignore.”
Waterstones, one of The Best Books to Look Out For in 2019

The Freedom Artist has a compelling power and energy that won’t let the reader go.”
The Herald (UK)

Additional Praise for Ben Okri:

Winner of the Booker Prize for The Famished Road

“Ben Okri is that rare thing, a literary and social visionary, a writer for whom all three—literature, culture, and vision—are profoundly interwoven.”
—Ali Smith, author of Autumn

“Okri is incapable of writing a boring sentence. As one startling image follows the next, The Famished Road begins to read like an epic poem that happens to touch down just this side of prose . . . When I finished the book and went outside, it was as if all the trees of South London had angels sitting in them.”
—Linda Grant, Independent on Sunday


In a world uncomfortably like our own, a young woman called Amalantis is arrested for asking a question. Her question is this: Who is the Prisoner?

When Amalantis disappears, her lover Karnak goes looking for her. He searches desperately at first, then with a growing realization that to find Amalantis, he must first understand the meaning of her question.

Karnak’s search leads him into a terrifying world of deception, oppression, and fear at the heart of which lies the prison. Then Karnak discovers that he is not the only one looking for the truth.

The Freedom Artist is an impassioned plea for justice and a penetrating examination of how freedom is threatened in a post-truth society. In Ben Okri’s most significant novel since the Booker Prize–winning The Famished Road, he delivers a powerful and haunting call to arms.

Read a Q&A with Ben Okri at Publishers Weekly.

Read an excerpt of The Freedom Artist at LitHub.

Read an article by Ben Okri at the Financial Times.

Read an opinion piece by Ben Okri at The Guardian.

Listen to Ben Okri and Vanity Fair’s Anderson Tepper in conversation as part of PEN America’s These Truths podcast

Watch an interview with Ben Okri at France 24:

Book Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Published: 2/4/20
  • IBSN: 9781617757921
  • e-IBSN: 9781617757938
  • Hardcover
  • IBSN: 9781617757914


BEN OKRI was born in Minna, Nigeria. His childhood was divided between Nigeria, where he saw firsthand the consequences of war, and London. He won the Booker Prize in 1991 for The Famished Road, and his novel Astonishing the Gods was selected as one of the BBC’s “100 Novels That Shaped Our World.” His work has been translated into more than twenty-five languages. He also writes plays and screenplays. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, a vice president of English PEN, and has been awarded the OBE as well as numerous international prizes and honorary doctorates. His latest novel, The Freedom Artist, was published by Akashic Books. Prayer for the Living is his latest short story collection.

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