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Graceland (Today Show Pick January 2005) Paperback – January 26, 2005

4.2 out of 5 stars 60 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Abani's debut novel offers a searing chronicle of a young man's coming of age in Nigeria during the late 1970s and early 1980s. The vulnerable, wide-eyed protagonist is Elvis Oke, a young Nigerian with a penchant for dancing and impersonating the American rock-and-roll singer he is named after. The story alternates between Elvis's early years in the 1970s, when his mother dies of cancer and leaves him with a disapproving father, and his life as a teenager in the Lago ghetto, a place one character calls "a pus-ridden eyesore on de face of de nation's capital." Relating how an innocent child grows into a hardened young man, the novel also gives a glimpse into a world foreign to most readers-a brutal Third World country permeated by the excesses and wonders of American popular culture. Sprinkled throughout the book are recipes and entries from Elvis's mother's journal, as well as descriptions of the kola nut ceremony through which an Igbo boy becomes a man. These sections at first seem showy and tacked on, but by the end of the book their significance becomes clearer. The book is most powerful when it refrains from polemic and didacticism and simply follows its protagonist on his daily journey through the violent, harsh Nigerian landscape. Elvis must also negotiate troubles closer to home, including a drunk and ruined father and friends who cannot always be trusted. In this book, names are destiny, "selected with care by your family and given to you as a talisman." One of Elvis's friends is named Redemption, but in the end it is Elvis who claims this moniker, both literally and symbolically.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Elvis Oke, a teenage Elvis impersonator in Lagos, Nigeria, attempts to come of age in spite of an alcoholic father who beats him and a soul-crushing ghetto environment that threatens to engulf him. Beset by floods, vermin, and the ubiquitous Colonel, chief of military security in Lagos, Elvis lives from day to day, saturated by a bizarrely out of date, misunderstood version of American pop culture and remembering his life in the country before his mother died and his father lost his career. Immigration to the U.S. is Elvis' dream, shared by his underworld friend, Redemption, although their notion of America comes mainly from untranslated, decades-old movies, all of which are interpreted only in terms of the conflict between John Wayne (all good guys) and Actor (everyone else). The novel offers a vibrant picture of an alien yet somehow parallel culture, and while the plot runs off the rails from time to time, the mix of surrealistic horror and cross-cultural humor is irresistible. Abani is a first novelist with a very bright future. Bill Ott
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 321 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; 1st Picador Ed edition (January 26, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312425287
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312425289
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.9 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #100,309 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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