Graceland is a dazzling debut by a singular new talent
The sprawling, swampy, cacophonous city of Lagos, Nigeria, provides the backdrop to the story of Elvis, a teenage Elvis impersonator hoping to make his way out of the ghetto. Broke, beset by floods, and beatings by his alcoholic father, and with no job opportunities in sight, Elvis is tempted by a life of crime. Thus begins his odyssey into the dangerous underworld of Lagos, guided by his friend Redemption and accompanied by a restless hybrid of voices including The King of Beggars, Sunday, Innocent and Comfort. Ultimately, young Elvis, drenched in reggae and jazz, and besotted with American film heroes and images, must find his way to a GraceLand of his own.
Nuanced, lyrical, and pitch perfect, Abani has created a remarkable story of a son and his father, and an examination of postcolonial Nigeria where the trappings of American culture reign supreme.
"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. Coraghessan Boyle
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.
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The vocabulary in this book was beautiful. The extremes were displayed perfectly and at times I felt like a character of the book! My imagination rang the entire time. I've had this book for a year and finally read it. Such a beautiful piece of art! Extreme as hell but beautiful!