The sprawling, swampy, cacophonous city of Lagos, Nigeria, provides the backdrop to the story of Elvis, a teenage Elvis impersonator hoping to. GraceLand has ratings and reviews. Jon said: I have mixed feelings about this book and while I’m glad I read it, it’s a difficult book to recom. By switching between flashbacks and the present, and sprinkling in some gritty scenes (child rape) and colorful detail (quoting John Wayne).
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Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read. Want to Read saving…. Want to Read Currently Reading Read. Refresh and try again. Open Preview See a Problem? Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. Preview — GraceLand by Chris Abani. GraceLand by Chris Abani. This novel is set in Maroko, a sprawling, swampy, crazy and colorful ghetto of Lagos, Nigeria, and unfolds against a backdrop of lush reggae and highlife music, American movies and a harsh urban existence.
Elvis Oke, a teenage Elvis impersonator spurred on by the triumphs of heroes in the American movies and books he devours, pursues his chosen vocation with ardent single- This novel is set in Maroko, a sprawling, swampy, crazy and colorful ghetto of Lagos, Nigeria, and unfolds against a backdrop of lush reggae and highlife music, American movies and a harsh urban existence.
Elvis Oke, a teenage Elvis impersonator spurred on by the triumphs of heroes in the American movies and books he devours, pursues his chosen vocation with ardent single-mindedness. He suffers through hours of practice set to the tinny tunes emanating from the radio in the filthy shack he shares with his alcoholic father, his stepmother and his stepsiblings. He applies thick makeup that turns his black skin white, to make his performances more convincing for American tourists and hopefully net him dollars.
But still he finds himself constantly broke. Beset by hopelessness and daunted by the squalor and violence of his gracealnd life, he must finally abandon his dream. With job prospects few and far between. Elvis is graceand to a life of crime by the easy money his friend Redemption tells him is to be had in Lago’s underworld. But the King of the Beggars, Elvis’s enigmatic yet faithful adviser, intercedes. And xhris, torn by the frustration of unrealizable dreams and accompanied by an eclectic chorus of voices, Elvis must find a way to a Graceland of his own making.
Graceland is the story of a son and his father, and an examination of graaceland Nigeria, where the trappings of American culture reign supreme. Paperbackpages.
Published January 26th by Picador first published To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about GraceLandplease sign up. Lists with This Book. Jul 26, Jon rated it liked it. Abani veers all over the place and the book alternates between passages that are broadly satirical and comical to lurid and disturbing passages that involve incest, child rape, and torture.
The book is at its best when it sticks to the coming of age story of its protagonist, Elvis Oke. Elvis is well drawn and his story is iconic as he struggles to make his way into adulthood and often feels alienated from his culture and those around him. Abani is also very good gracelad writing satirical and humorous passages. In the beginning of the book, Elvis tries to support himself by ggraceland his version of an Elvis impersonation for American tourists.
When Abani keeps the satire subtle, like in these passages, the book is far more effective than in some of the over the top plot points that occur later in the story. One of the best passages in the book describes movie night in a Lagos slum.
GRACELAND by Chris Abani | Kirkus Reviews
In the spirit of Western capitalism, free cigarettes are handed out at the beginning of the movie. The screens were dirty, hole-ridden, once-white bedsheets stretched between two wooden poles. The projectors, archaic and as old as many of the silent stars, sounded like small tanks. Moody, they tended to burn films at the slightest provocation, melting the plastic into cream and brown cappuccino froth.
They vibrated so badly, the picture often blurred and danced insanely from side to side, sometime spilling out onto a nearby wall. At first, Elvis found it was dizzy work just trying to keep focused, until he learned the popular trick was to sway from side to side while squinting off to the left.
Barring the occasional bout of motion sickness, this worked quite well, and Elvis often wondered what it would be like to stand above and look down. He was sure the crowd made quite a sight: This would have been a far better book if he could have kept that tone of gentle parody up for the length of the novel.
Many of the slums in Lagos are makeshift structures built above swampland: View all 3 comments. Nov 11, David Sasaki rated it really liked it. In the very first scene of the book, when the protagonist Elvis is awoken by a pounding Nigerian rainstorm, we read this: The book he had fallen asleep reading, Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man”, fell from his side to the floor, the old paperback cracking at the spine, falling neatly into two halves as precisely as if sliced by a sword.
That’s the kind of first-scene statement that has symbolism written all over it. Here is what Abani tells Tayari Jones about the scene in an April interview in In the very first scene of the book, when the protagonist Elvis is awoken by a pounding Nigerian rainstorm, we read this: Here is what Abani tells Tayari Jones about the scene in an April interview in The Believer when she asks for his thoughts on “global blackness”.
Jones is African American, but spent a year in Nigeria when her father was a Fulbright scholar there.
I grew up conflicted about this whole notion [of global blackness]. Especially since [Nigerian] independence came quickly and was inspired a lot by Ghana’s independence, which was led by the Pan-Africanist Kwame Nkrumah.
But it is interesting that these guys were educated mostly in America. These guys had contact with Du Bois and Marcus Garvey long before they came back. gracelahd
You can see this link much more in music. Enslaved Africans cnris the roots of the blues with them to the United States and it made its way back to us in Africa. Sailors would come back and teach kids on the docs of Accra and Mali all the American guitar movements, which later produced people like Ali Farka Toure, who plays this hybrid Malian music that sounds so much like the blues.
And he influenced people like Fela Kuti. There’s that dialogue going on all the time And I see a lot of it happening in literature as well. In the opening of GraceLand there’s that metaphor of the book falling off Elvis’ chest and splitting gracelahd.
This not only represents the splitting of the diaspora but the ability to enter the text in a way that he wouldn’t be able to if he didn’t share that fundamental racial heritage. Much of the book works as a collage – a collection of brief accounts of how Igbos offer the sacred kola nut to visitors; horrifying accounts of poverty and exploitation in modern day Lagos chfis moments of tender love between close friends and complete strangers; and detailed Igbo recipes which come from the diary of Elvis’ mother.
And throughout the book there is the waning influence of British gracelanf rule, the loss of indigenous knowledge, and the expanding influence of American pop culture.
What I found most interesting about the book, though, is the almost complete congruence of Elvis and Black, the protagonist of Abani’s later novel, The Virgin of Flames. Both are lower class artists, always with a ahani book tucked under their arm, with one dead parent and one abusive one.
Their friends are concerned about chis, they are self-centered, and yet also completely gracelaand, always willing to go hungry to help feed a stranger. They are moral anchors in a world that has seemingly lost its moral compass. There are multiple scenes in which they try on make-up and contemplate homosexuality.
Which begs the question, how much Chris Abani is there in Elvis and Black? Chris Abani was there looking a little like Jabba the Hutt as he shoveled a plate of food into his mouth while his fiancee looked on across the table. There was something gluttonous about the scene, with the swimming pool in the background, and all the fawning attention. Besides, I’ve never been one to approach celebrities, literary or otherwise. From my experience, the interactions tend to be recipes for disappointment.
Apparently, once you reach a certain level of fame, conversations are easily mistaken for interviews. But up on stage Abani ahani me more than just gracepand anyone else with the exception, probably, of Kei Miller. His poems were beautiful, his stories where funny, and the man knows how to play sax. GraceLand left me satisfied, but I hope that Abani – who was raised in a mansion with cars and chria – doesn’t continue to romanticize the poor, abused artist.
Now that he’s been living in Southern California for some time, I’d love to read a book about LA targeted specifically toward Nigerian readers. And, no, such a book would not produce any money. But it’s the type of book that both Black and Elvis would want to write. It’s interesting, in his interview with Jones, Abani insists that he doesn’t think about the Western reader when he writes: What I do is similar to what Ngugi is doing, operating under that notion that African art must exist in an appreciative context that is outside of the power of Westernization to reduce or empower.
We allow access to the Western reader, but also say we don’t care about what you think. This is what we are trying to show you.
If you get it, fine. If you don’t get it, we don’t care. But I think Abani does care, and that actually leads to some of the worst passages in the book, which read more like narrative travel guide than good literature. Empty bottles were valuable because the local Coca-Cola factory washed and reused them. To ensure they got their bottles back, the factory charged local retailers a deposit on the bottles, which could only be redeemed when the bottles were turned in.
The retailers in turn passed the cost of the deposit on to consumers if they intended to leave the immediate vicinity of their shops with the drinks. The amount varied from retailer to retailer but was usually no less than the price of the drink. Those sort of explanatory footnotes are littered throughout the book. As a Western reader I don’t mind them, but I think its disingenuous of Abani to not own up to them. Jul 10, Rona Fernandez rated it really liked it Recommends it for: This book is one of those books that, no matter how intense and devastating its content, is written so well that you just don’t want it to end.
Abani’s prose is so effortless and fluid, you can’t help but be drawn into the world he’s created.