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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 book Daphne's Lot is a collection of poetry for which he won a 2003 Lannan Literary Fellowship. His book, Kalakuta Republic, is a collection of poetry based on his experience as a political prisoner in Nigeria, and received the PEN USA West Freedom-to-Write Award and the Prince Claus of the Netherlands Award. Abani lives and teaches in Los Angeles.


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. (Feb.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Extraordinary...This book works brilliantly in two ways. As a convincing and un-patronizing 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 "Abani's intensely visual style--and his sense of humor--convert the stuff of hopelessness into the stuff of hope. San Francisco Chronicle 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 Graceland is a grotesque, painfully hilarious look at the dark underground world of Lagos Nigeria, and it brings back vivid memories of an urban culture seemingly always on the verge of a complete societal breakdown. Chris Abani's riveting novel is an unrelenting focus on blight, squalor, savagery, and violence. It is a superbly written, structurally fascinating work and I found myself captivated by the hilarity of some of the scenes, often as I found myself on the verge of tears. It is a stunning debut by an immensely talented writer. Quincy Troupe, author of Transcircularity, Miles: The Autobiography and Miles and Me Chris Abani's Graceland is a richly detailed, poignant and utterly fascinating look into another culture and how it is cross-pollinated by our own. It brings to mind the work of Ha Jin in its power and revelation of the new. T.C. Boyle, author of Drop City"cival Everett "

Poet Abani (Kalakuta Republic) sets his vivid coming-of-age novel in crumbling, postcolonial Nigeria. In this setting, wealthy foreign tourists are an endangered species, so "Elvis" Oke needs to find a new line of work. An intelligent and bookish young man who impersonates Elvis Presley in front of Lagos's decaying Hilton Hotel, he doesn't have many options aside from smuggling illegal body parts to the European transplant market. Abani chronicles this rapid decline of Nigerian culture in general and the Oke family in particular, jumping back and forth from the early 1970s to the mid-1980s. Each chapter is prefaced with an excerpt from a tattered notebook that once belonged to Elvis's mother, filled with traditional Nigerian recipes and herbal preparations. A former political prisoner in Nigeria, Abani contrasts the contemplative world of the notebook with chaotic street scenes showing the triumph of Western music, film, and fashion over traditional culture. (At least the sidewalk vendors still sell Nigerian food.) A fresh take on postcolonialism; Abani even manages to pull off the tired novel-as-cookbook concept, equating cuisine with nationalism. Recommended for larger fiction collections.-Edward B. St. John, Loyola Law Sch. Lib., Los Angeles Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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