Tiger Work: Literature meets Sustainability in this new eclectic collection by Ben Okri

The written word has long been a powerful medium for radical and transformative change. When you have someone skilled, talented and powerful like booker-prize winning author Ben Okri taking his pen up against climate change, then there is hope in the horizon.

Yesterday was the global launch of his new book, Tiger Work, a collection of stories, essays and poems about climate change. Okri brings his classic blend of story telling, fantasy and magic to this timely and relevant topic.

In a beautiful event put together by the Emirates Literature Foundation in the lead up to COP-28, Ahlam Bolooki asked Okri why he chose to write about climate change. I absolutely loved his answer.

Okri’s response (in my paraphrasing) was that it was not why he was writing about climate change. The more relevant question for us to consider was why more writers were not. We all have our pet themes that we care about, write about, nurse in our own unique ways. But the climate crisis is a theme that transcends all, it hangs above all else. Despite all the challenges we face as humanity (and none of them are trivial or easy), there is not a single one that poses an existential threat of the same magnitude as the climate crisis currently face. In that context, he said, it feels oddly redundant to squirrel away and write about other topics. Once you arrive at that conclusion, you cannot ignore it anymore.

One of my favorite pieces from the book is “Letter to the Earth”:

Dear Earth,

Give us the suffering we deserve. The pandemic you sent us is a beginning. Too often we have been saved by the benevolence of the universe. When salvation comes easily, we do not learn. We only learn through suffering. We have become too spoilt, too stupid, too self-regarding. We fancy ourselves as gods. But we are children of death and immortality. We are nothing but wonder woven into mortal flesh.

It is time for our flesh and our dreams to be tried. It is time for us to undergo the greatest initiation that we have undergone together as a species, an initiation of fire that brings us humility and illumination. We will not transform ourselves and be worthy of this fabled earth if we aren’t raised up in some way. The only way is to temper us with fire and with iron.

I do not wish suffering on anyone. But the human race has failed in that solemn responsibility to fructify and enrich you, Earth, to add to your beauty, and evolve with you towards the fullest human possibilities.

We are not rising up to the greatness of the wonder woven in us.

Okri’s writing is, as always, honest, imaginative and inspiring. And in this case, exactly what we need to hear. If we continue to live as we do now, there will be no world left for us to fix, argues Okri in this evocative collection. He imagines messages – sent to us from beyond the end, from those who saw it coming – exhorting us to change now.

The book cover, illustrated by Yehrin Tong is stunning. See below, as I try to figure how to make space for this new addition to my library that’s fast running out of shelf space! But whether you have space for it or not, time to read or not, this is a collection whose themes none of us can choose to ignore.

It is time for us to rise up to the greatness of the wonder woven within all of us. And this book is an excellent trigger to find that spart within us, and to rise up, as we all must do, in this dire hour of need.