From the author of the award-winning GraceLand comes a searing, dazzlingly written novel of a tarnished City of Angels
Praised as “singular” (The Philadelphia Inquirer) and “extraordinary” (The New York Times Book Review), GraceLand stunned critics and instantly established Chris Abani as an exciting new voice in fiction. In his second novel, set against the uncompromising landscape of East L.A., Abani follows a struggling artist named Black, whose life and friendships reveal a world far removed from the mainstream. Through Black’s journey of self- discovery, Abani raises essential questions about poverty, religion, and ethnicity in America today. The Virgin of Flames, a marvelous and gritty novel filled with indelible images and unforgettable characters, confirms Chris Abani as an immensely talented writer.
An L.A. artist's search for identity forms the core of the diffuse but haunting new novel by Nigerian-born poet and Graceland novelist Abani. Black is a 36-year-old muralist living hand to mouth behind the Ugly Store cafe in a bleak area of L.A. He's depressed and in an existential rut: engrossed in his latest work drawing on Catholic iconography (beaten into him as a child by his Salvadoran mother), and still smarting from the disappearance when he was a child of his African father (a NASA engineer) on a Vietnam-era space-related mission, Black feels he's being followed by ghosts namely, the biblical Gabriel, the angel of annunciation. Sometimes he converses with Gabriel in the spaceship he has constructed in honor of his father above the cafe. Black is also deeply conflicted about his sexuality; a frequenter of female prostitutes, he has recently become obsessed with a local transvestite stripper, Sweet Girl. But Black's malaise may also stem from a curse involving a malevolent spirit that kills male children that his father wrote him about. It's a muddle, and it's difficult to care about the plot details. But Abani touches on the far reaches of psychic pain, religious and sexual, and creates a hallucinatory despair.