Customer Reviews: Becoming Abigail
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on May 3, 2006
Becoming Abigail is devastating in its deep understanding of the complexity human nature (both the beauty and the monstrosity). I am a woman and I am amazed at Abani's ability to understand and portray a female voice. This novel is sad, terrifying, moving and every page of it rings true.

The prose style is sparse, for example (from chapter 31): "The comfort of simple things. Coffee percolating. Cinnamon buns warming oven and home. An ice cold Coca-Cola on a hot day, Licking out the mixing bowl. Chocolate. Childhood... And what would be the line for her?... A line is a lie. Who can tell what it will open unto." And in this unpredictable strong novella, who can tell indeed? Abani's style here is fearless (you can read how he has distilled his prose from Graceland to Becoming Abigail) and its rhythm ranges from a paused, minimalist riff, to a painful staccato, to the intensity of a fluid jazz solo.

This is a fast read that will singe your brain. Abani gives the reader no easy answers, as indeed no good artist should. He raises questions.

Through this beautifully told story, in the vein of films like Moodysson's Lilya4ever, calls our attention to one of the world's most overwhelming exploitative practices: the sexual slavery of women and children, not only in Nigeria/Britain but everywhere.
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on February 18, 2007
I honestly haven't ever read a book quite like this. It is in one word 'wow!'
Short, painful (almost masochistic to read, nearly like self flagellating), raw and honest.

You will be glad to get to the end of the book but you won't dare skip a page in the process.

Abigail's story couldn't have been told in any other or possibly better form or manner. Chris Abani is such a mature, heavily talented writer and he manipulates and owns his language.

This is my second read of his works and I will keep on reading him. He speaks for the underdogs who have no voice, no easy feat.

Chris Abani makes me proud to be Nigerian and Ibo and reminds me of the possibilities.
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on May 2, 2006
Yesterday I finished this book during my commute to work, and back home. Simply put, and unfortunately to use an inadequate and trite phrase, this book left an indelible impression on me, and I can't quite find the right words to describe this feeling. Except to say this book is exquisitely haunting. I can understand the previous reviewer's reaction to this material, in that nothing seems to be held back in this book. You are truly taken into the heart of darkness in this book, in a manner that is very raw. Abigail's horrors are quite disquieting to say the least, and can lead one to be easily repulsed- this book is not for the faint of heart.

However, in my opinion, the prose is taught and shows a great deal of restraint. It would be too easy to sensationalize and glorify the horrors depicted, as is what we are used to in current films, graphic novels, fiction, etc. If anything, the prose is executed in a poetic way, which distills and softens the gravity of the events being described. This book is not light fare.

This tiny book attempts to do in a very small space, what many books five times its size so often cannot achieve. It tells a harrowing story of a life lived, that was not truly alive, almost an account of a ghostlike way of being. Abigail, this Abigail never had a chance.

I also am grateful to the author for the size of this material, I am not sure I could have handled much more suffering.

It is not perfect, but damn it is noteworthy and good.

Thanks for reading.
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on November 28, 2014
Very powerfully told short story of a young girl whose mother died in childbirth. The story is told by jumping between the current time and the past. It's sad and tells how this young girl, named after her mother, tried to have her own identity and did so in distorted ways. Her mother was an accomplished judge and her father was distraught over the mother's death. His daughter looked just like his wife and it bothered his daughter that she wasn't seen as an individual. As a result, she embarked on a wild ride of, among other things, performing self-immolation.
They lived in Africa, and her father had a relative in England. He decided that it was best for his daughter to go there for the rest of her schooling. The relative's husband had made money and he came to get the daughter to bring her to England. Just before the daughter left, she found her father had hung himself.
Once in England she quickly discovered that the relative's husband was a brutal demon and a pedophile. (Abigail was only 14.)
The story continues in its brief chapters as the final days of Abigail are recounted. Well written but sad.
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on October 25, 2014
At its heart, Becoming Abigail is about an abused girl’s subconscious quest for individuality, independence, and love. What is unique about this version of a familiar story is Chris Abani’s poetic style, spare of prose and rich with imagery, evoking an almost supernatural sensibility in his exploration of Abigail’s character. The book successfully alternates between Abigail’s childhood in Nigeria and her adolescence in London.

Named for her mother, who died shortly after her birth, Abigail grows to adolescence in the care of her terminally depressed father and in the shadow of her deceased mother. Her father expects her to become like her mother in behavior and appearance. Abigail rebels against his refusal to connect with her. Nevertheless, she is torn between trying to be an individual and trying to become the “other” Abigail, her mother.

Her association with this other Abigail lends her a strength of resolve unusual in one so young. She doesn’t seem affected when her cousin rapes her at the age of ten, nor does she react when her cousin’s husband, Peter, molests her at his wedding. Later her father commits suicide and Abigail is sent to live with Peter and his wife, Mary. Peter forces a teenage Abigail into prostitution.

At this point we think we’ve read stories like this before, but in a turnaround of superhuman proportions, the victim becomes the aggressor as Abigail turns on Peter, leaving him presumably to bleed to death. Deranged and distressed, Abigail is picked up by social workers and takes to Derek, an older white man who doesn’t objectify or condescend her, but treats her as an intelligent human being. The book ends on a rather ambiguous note, leaving the reader unsure as to her next action. For someone as alive, as spirited as Abigail, her indecisiveness is troubling. Has she finally given up?

Other questions remain unanswered as well. Abigail’s rape at the age of ten by cousin Edwin is brought up once and never mentioned again, nor is Abigail’s psychology deconstructed during this incident. Abigail and Mary’s relationship is reintroduced in the present time, but the problems between them—Mary’s betrayal, Peter’s grisly demise—are unresolved. Abigail’s relationship with her social worker was a little troubling. She may well believe that she “chose” this man as her lover, but I view it as a psychological recourse. After enduring so much abuse at the hands of people she trusted, it’s unsurprising Abigail would develop feeling for an older man who was kind to her and in a position of power over her.

A few sequences were a little vaguely presented, such as the scene in which Molly discovers Derek and Abigail. I’m still not sure who, if anyone, was stabbed, or what was the source of the blood on Mary’s nightgown. More description of life in Nigeria would not have been remiss either, to paint a clearer picture of Abigail’s childhood and show the cultural differences of her life there. But the book is beautifully written, a unique portrayal of a girl’s unhappy life presented in words that blur the line between real and surreal. Abani’s heroine is a pillar of strength, carrying her burdens nobly and with astonishing pride.
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This is a very quick read, but not because it was not engaging. As a matter of fact, I kept reading because I wanted to know more...and you will be the same way. Although it's short, it's probably all I could handle - very deep!
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I had never read anything by Christopher Abani. When I first saw this book, I noticed many people were purchasing it in the bookstore. Since then it sparked my interest and I decided to read it. I am always willing to read something new. From the moment I read the first page, I was hooked. It's a beautifully written piece of work. Every word is chosen with such care. The book is placed together so perfectly, leading to a surpising ending and an explanation on what really happened with this young girl.

Abigail is such a comnplex character and so human. When you read it, you feel as if you know this girl.

I have no complaints about this piece of writing, it's wonderful. Abani has definitely made me a fan and I will definitely read some of his other works.
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on February 26, 2013
Is the writer a man or woman, I guess with a name like Chris it could be either but Im guessing its a man. It just didnt gel for me, the experiences of the female character exhibiting some of the traits & behaviour that she does after enduring shocking & traumatic abuse, also the characters in general are unbelievable & 1 dimensional. The writing style seems contrived while it appears to be aiming for clever & intellectual, it falls short & only succeeds in seeming vague & pointless, I particularly disliked the writers tendency to repeat certain phrases 3 times which happens a fair bit. Obviously I did not enjoy this story, though the subject matter may not be to everyones taste, it was the lack of depth in the characters & the writing style I found tasteless.
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on May 2, 2006
This novel reminds me of Marguerite Duras' equally unflinching look at a young girl's sexuality, "The Lover." The writing is poetic and spare, with a real attention to visual detail and repetition of image. It has the fugue-like feel of a novella with regard to the thematic repetition of loss and violation -- although it *is* sad material, there is still some hope, and the beauty of the language carries the reader through.
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on August 10, 2006
This book captures so much in so few, beautifully chosen words that, after each event, I stopped to consider all that wasn't said -- all the historical, sociological, emotional, psychological, and other aspects of Abigail's complicated and harsh existence juxtaposed with her indomitable spirit.
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