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Graceland Paperback – 20 Jan 2014

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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: St Martin's Press; 1st Picador Ed edition (20 Jan. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312425287
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312425289
  • Product Dimensions: 13.8 x 2.4 x 21.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 242,255 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Abani's intensely visual style--and his sense of humor--convert the stuff of hopelessness into the stuff of hope.--San Francisco Chronicle Extraordinary...This book works brilliantly in two ways. As a convincing and unpatronizing record of life in a poor Nigerian slum, and as a frighteningly honest insight into a world skewed by casual violence, it's wonderful...And for all the horrors, there are sweet scenes in Graceland too, and they're a thousand times better for being entirely unsentimental...Lovely.--The New York Times Book Review. To say that this is a Nigerian or African novel is to miss the point. This absolutely beautiful work of fiction is about complex strained political structures, the irony of the West being a measure of civilization, and the tricky business of being a son. Abani's language is beautiful and his story is important. --Percival Everett

About the Author

Chris Abani was born in Nigeria. At age sixteen he published his first novel, for which he suffered severe political persecution. He went into exile in 1991, and has since lived in England and the United States. His last book, Daphne's Lot, is a collection of poetry for which he won a 2003 Lannan Literary Fellowship. He is also the recipient of the PEN USA West Freedom to Write Award and the Prince Claus Award. Abani lives and teaches in Los Angeles.

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Sancho Mahle on 3 Feb. 2005
Format: Hardcover
I was given Graceland as a present, and when I looked it over, I thought it would be a book in which the political statements would dominate in the entire the story. But I was wrong. In Graceland, the writer successfully avoided that with his rich characters, fascinating details, fast pace and the emotional expressions of the characters, especially the protagonist. The characters in the story stand very well for themselves. I think GRACELAND is one of the most remarkable novels I have read and surprising enough, it showed that Nigeria has adopted so many things usually thought of as essentially American. I also recommend The Usurper and Other Stories,The old man and the Medal for encompassing many rich themes.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By RC101 on 5 Dec. 2010
Format: Paperback
Chris Abani's Graceland is a great book.It details cultures,change,struggle,good,evil,forces and allows us at the same time an opportunity to be apprehensive and sentimental.It deals with Elvis's struggles with sexuality in a perverse and ethically erased diatribal way.Some telling details of rape,schiophilia,incest,anal sex,crucifixes,human trafficing,renouncing politics and just the age old struggle of men are evoked by Abani.The Igbo traditions are also examined and add a fine contrast to the western way of life which permeates aspects of the Nigerian cultural frame.The book even touches on issues such as minelstry and burlesque which was exciting and Abani's detail is commendable.Its a great book.Lively,energetic,real(a bit too real at times),harrowing,concealing but nonetheless contemporary in its questioning and perhaps subtle denounciation of the status quo.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Michael J. Law on 15 Jun. 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Having visited Lagos several times this book is an accurate reflection of the trials & tribulations of the average Nigerian. Great storyline,a real eye opener,just read it.
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By Mr M. on 8 May 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Nice read.

What I loved most about it was the somewhat intricate detailing on Igbo culture. Good bok.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 58 reviews
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
A beautiful book that needs an audience 21 April 2004
By BookLover - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This book was quite a moving, magical experience for me. I was first drawn by just the cover (which is funny considering we're not supposed to judge books by covers yet I almost always am drawn to striking covers and then the contents). When I read the jacket, I thought of the recent Brazilian film CITY OF GODS. Well, I thought Chris Abani's book had far more humanity, and far more hope. The ending is sublime, and very emotional. The book is rather sprawling, detailing the life of young Elvis Okwe. His struggles to do the right thing are incredibly intense and heartbreaking. He really wants to be a good person, a good man, and its often things that are out of his hands that prevent him from doing that. All of the characters are well-drawn and unconventional, without ever being stereotypical, especially Elvis's father, who you think is just abusive and distant, but is really a tragic, complicated man, torn apart by the love of his country. GRACELAND encompasses many themes, but most importantly, it is about "redemption," not just for Elvis but for the country that Mr. Abani clearly loves. I loved this book and I hope it finds its audience.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Nigeria's Cultural Confusion 7 Sept. 2005
By Meredith - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Graceland is an enlightening yet very disturbing look into the poverty-stricken and corrupt nation of Nigeria. Although this book is a coming-of-age story, it also displays a culture besieged by American influence and internal discontent. Abani's choice to name the main character Elvis is particularly interesting since the reference to an American pop culture icon contrasts with the other metaphorical names like Redemption and Comfort. He is cloaked in a culture to which he doesn't truly belong and is alienated in a manner reminiscent of Ralph Ellison's nameless invisible man. Descriptions of the elaborate and vital kola nut ceremony are spaced throughout the book in a way that implies how deeply embedded such rituals are in Igbo people despite the background of American runoff; Nigeria has a society of multiple layers. Abani displays the curious intermingling of these two contrasting cultures very well.

The book was very well-written and the format made it particularly realistic. It is not chronologically organized, but the date preceding each section prevents confusion. This format, with excerpts from his mother's journal and descriptions of the kola nut ceremony mixed in, makes it easier to understand Elvis' perspective; details about his earlier life and Nigerian culture provide a context in which the story is set. The only problem I felt there was with the book was I felt Elvis could have been more emotionally developed. We see him undergo incredibly traumatic events (he has to deal with a drunken failure of a father and the memory of a mother who died of cancer when he was very young in the midst of intense poverty and the widespread crime that inevitably accompanies it), but it would have been interesting to read about the mental repercussions in more detail and perhaps with more nuance; his emotions seem a bit too straightforward. I felt myself more fascinated with the lesser characters because they are more dynamic and have greater depth. The aptly named Redemption is particularly interesting because he initally appears to be Elvis' downfall, but ultimately is his savior.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
A glimpse into Gracelang 7 Sept. 2005
By Samantha Barron - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Chris Abani's Graceland is a compelling novel that chronicles the adolescence of a Nigerian Elvis impersonator left to fend for himself after his mother's death and his father's turn to alcoholism. The novel is set in post-colonial Lagos, Nigeria and provides a devastating look into the violence, corruption, and poverty of Africa's slums. But although it delves into the issue political tension, it is not solely focused on the local goings-on. Graceland is a story of human affliction at the hands of overbearing fathers, crooked governments, and western influence.

If you are looking for an uncomplicated and linear novel, then Graceland isn't for you. Its plot jumps back and forth from Elvis' childhood to his teen years. Although these sudden shifts may seem disconcerting, they ultimately help the reader understand Elvis on a deeper level. The stories of his past make up who he is in the present, giving the reader a fuller sense of his character. The point of view also shifts throughout the novel. While most of the story follows Elvis, some parts of it are instead of his father's point of view, or even his cousin Innocence's. These short dips into another character's life and experience show that Elvis is not the only victim of the circumstances in Nigeria. It would be easy to point a finger of blame at Sunday, Elvis' father, but glimpses into his life show that he too has been irreparably damaged. Although he seems like the cause of Elvis' pain, he is just another casualty of corruption. Every character suffers, and no one lives unscathed. Bits of culture are also thrown into the mix: throughout the book, one can find Nigerian recipes, medicinal uses for herbs and plants, and the procession of the kola nut ritual. These give the story color and character; they are little remnants of the authentic Nigerian culture that seems to be slipping away. To say that the book is too cluttered by these many story-lines is to miss the point. Graceland isn't only about Elvis just like it isn't only about Nigeria: every single piece of the novel contributes to the reader's holistic understanding of suffering and the struggle for salvation. All of the seemingly random threads of information somehow weave themselves together into a cohesive story.

Elvis seems to be on an endless quest for goodness. He strives to do what is morally right, even when those around him resort to violence and theft. Despite what he endures, Elvis has a sort of purity and innocence-he believes that his friends and family are essentially good, and each time they fail him, he is hurt. In Lagos, the concept of right versus wrong is loosely defined: the promise of a mediocre stipend is often enough to skew the balance of one's moral scale. Even Elvis finds himself-albeit reluctantly-involved in a world of drugs and slavery and employed by the corrupt Colonel. But in the end, it is Elvis' unfaltering conscience that renders him incapable of living in Lagos. He is born in Nigeria, but he never really belongs there; he doesn't have what it takes to partake in the day-to-day struggle for survival.

Your first response may be to want to save Elvis, his friends, his family, his father, Lagos, but it becomes clear that they ultimately don't need saving. Despite the many pressures they face-one after another militaristic government, western culture encroaching upon their own-they display stunning acts of bravery, unity, and loyalty to defend themselves.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
These songs of freedom 24 Aug. 2005
By Larry Dilg - Published on
Format: Hardcover
If you've come this far in your trip to Graceland, take the next step. Buy it. Read it. Abani's story will not resemble the well-made novel - the plot jumps, holes abound, and the focus shifts, but you will be mesmerized, horrified, and provoked into laughter and even delight. If you've read Chris's poetry, you'll be grateful that his gift for concise and intense language is given full play, but the novel form allows him more room to work with structure, memory, and juxtaposition. Recipes and kola ceremony flow through the narrative, reminding us of another time, a "childhood" of ancestral wisdom and motherlore that has been all but beaten out of modern Nigeria. The story's events occur between 1973 and 1983, over twenty years ago. It feels contemporary but also quite dated: there's no mention of AIDS, for instance, and the war in Sudan is only beginning. One fears that a contemporary version of the story would seem worse, but that's like saying Oliver Twist is out of date. The forms of human misery change, but pain is timeless. What Elvis undergoes in Graceland is horrible by any standards.

The book is not just an exercise in suffering. Its high-life rhythm is almost danceable and the language begs to be sung or rapped with the right lilt and spin. The characters have fantastic names, exotic personalities, and metaphorical heft. The reader is always aware that Abani is working on several levels at once, exposing a real world, developing a complex character, cauterizing an enduring wound, mourning a lost past, and crafting a handbook for survival in the global village. The elements are familiar, the mix is new, important, and vital. Reading this book will expand your mind and delight your soul.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
brilliant 25 Dec. 2005
By Adora Nwosu - Published on
Format: Paperback
It's so refreshing to ready a story that takes place in present day Nigeria. Very well written with hidden gems such as traditional proverbs and receipes- i jumped for joy when I saw roast yam and palm oil. Mr Abani tackles diverse issues from incest to political unrest. I loved it
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