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3.79  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,654 Ratings  ·  178 Reviews
In this 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 ...more
ebook, 336 pages
Published January 26th 2005 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 2004)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Aug 23, 2015 Jon rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have mixed feelings about this book and while I’m glad I read it, it’s a difficult book to recommend to anyone. I’d say one of the main weaknesses is an inconsistency in tone throughout the book. 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. There are also times when Abani’s anger towards the corruption and oppression in his native country results in d ...more
Jul 11, 2009 Rona rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: smart, open-minded people
Shelves: read-2007
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. In this case, Lagos, Nigeria in the early 1980s, with flashbacks a few years earlier. We follow Elvis (his real name), a Nigerian teenager who longs to dance and do his Elvis impersonation (what commentary on internal colonization in that one characteristic ...more
Nov 21, 2008 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 2004 interview in
"Writers are dangerous," so says A.S. Byatt, and when you read Chris Abani you see exactly how the truth can kill. Abani's stories show us life balanced on the blade of a knife. His novel, Graceland, chronicles a dark page of Nigeria's history as we follow a young boy learning to live and love in the turbulent eighties. Graceland opens with a nod to Langston Hughes' "A Dream Deferred." Elvis, our young Nigerian protagonist, desperately wants to be a dancer, and in the midst of war and political ...more
Dec 30, 2007 Lauren rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
I think you can judge this book by its cover. The ten year old smoking the cigarette says as much about Chris Abani's over-stated portrait of poverty in Lagos as any of the prose within. While I certainly think it's about time a mass-market paperback about the current conditions in industrialized West Africa, Abani presents his critique of American imperialism within a whole lot of artistry or subtlety. It's Things Fall Apart, Part Deux, without the poetry that Chinua Achebe brings to his charac ...more
Any of the beauty of the language in this book was marred to me by the author's seeming desire to pack the novel with the most tragedy he possibly could. I understand that this was a troubling and difficult time in the country's history, but by the end of the book it was like an absurdist comedy, and I just wanted it to be over, as opposed to feeling deeply effected and moved, as I suppose was the intent.
Jun 18, 2009 Carolyn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book aspires to more than it achieves, but it is a wonderful and, at times, amazing first novel nonetheless.

Graceland is set mostly in the early 1980's in the Lagos slum, Makota, and the protagonist is a boy for whom the grandest ambition imaginable is to become an Elvis impersonator. It's pathetic, and that is just what so charmed me about this novel. The author creates incredible depth of feeling and meaning through symbolism and imagery throughout the book, and the central symbol is the
Jay Z
Apr 03, 2012 Jay Z rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fic-lit
I fucking hated this book and had to throw it across the room 3/4ths of the way through, but this has more to do with my distrust & dislike of the author than the book itself. The book is just descriptive well-written poverty porn for a western audience that's hungry for evidence that supports its foregone conclusions about african poverty, brutality, filth, rape, hunger, incest, sodomy, squalor, rape, filth, more rape, poverty, and oh, also poverty. (africans are really, really poor guys. t ...more
Apr 25, 2013 Bjorn rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nigeria
It's hard to be a man, Elvis Oké's father tells him. The measure of a man used to be his good name, and he has to be prepared to defend that name - his honour - against anything, from outside or inside.

Names play a part in this, yes. Elvis father is named Sunday, his best friend is named Redemption, and Elvis himself is of course named Elvis. That's about all they have left, it seems; they live in a shanty town in Lagos, Nigeria, and if there's any meaning to the fact that Sunday is a drunk to w
Jan 07, 2010 Matt rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
It was nice reading about the life of a youth living in Lagos. The richness of the traditions and the complexities of the extended African family don't always translate well into a western "lexicon". The writer wonderfully describes the significance of the Kola, the importance and power of traditional medicines and those that practice them, and the recipes are fun. I even had a couple of them while in Ghana!

He talks about the concept of the African extended family, saying so much in his descript
Aug 29, 2008 Christine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A new writing mentor–someone I really admire. I picked up GraceLand because I was curious and hopeful about its novel structure. And I was rewarded.

Notes on it structure–the main story is set in 1983…but in Book 1, every other chapter is set in the past until the timeline intersects at the end of Book 1 (i.e., Chapter 1: 1983…Chapter 2: 1972…Chapter 3: 1983…Chapter 4: 1974, etc., etc.). The beginning of Book 2 moves forward from that point, staying in 1983. Bam.

In addition to structure, I found
Kevin Warman
Jan 05, 2016 Kevin Warman rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Devastating. Abani crafts a masterful tale of Nigeria, youth, coming of age, loss, pain, suffering, the wild, senseless injustices of the world and much more. Certainly worth reading.
Jun 04, 2014 Alison rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Pauline Jean
As much as I would like to love this book because of its amazing language, the whole story simply did not just resonate with me. The plot, all in all, failed to engaged me as a reader because of the superfluity of its themes hurriedly enmeshed in one pack, leaving me confused to ascertain the entirety of the message it wanted to convey.

Don't get me wrong, Chris Abani's prose here is just too damn impeccably hypnotic; it's a sheer understatement. He's a true wordsmith who knows how to encapsulat
Maybe I took too long reading it. This started out as a five star read but toward the end I began to feel annoyed with the Elvis character. And some other things. Which unfortunately affected my enjoyment of the book. I really struggled to finish, which is a shame, since Abani created quite the grand finale. I'm sad that it fizzled for me.
If you want to see Nigeria through the eyes of a disenfranchised kid trying his best to survive in post independent Nigeria, set during the late 70's and early 80's. This is your book. Also has recipes on great traditional Nigerian meals
Jul 03, 2010 Michelle rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
A captivating story that is marred by really poor structure. A simple, straightforward narrative would have been much better than the flashbacks, African recipes and random quotes that begin every chapter. What was the editor thinking?
Dana Mccloskey
Apr 29, 2015 Dana Mccloskey rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-in-2015, africa
Such a brilliant read. Abani captures the terror of post war Nigeria with the ever present grace of the old ways. His prose is so vivid and dense that I kept turning page after page. This tells the story of a young boy named Elvis trying to make his way in the world as he is haunted by the death of his mother, alcoholic father, and challenges of life caving in around him. The slow reveal through his flashbacks make for a shocking ended that stays with you long after you're finished. Such a beaut ...more
Sep 05, 2015 Gina rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So I liked the story, I liked Elvis, and I liked reading about Nigeria. The story was well-paced and interesting, I thought Elvis was likable, and the glimpse into Nigerian society was interesting.

The little things that I didn't like about this book center around the writing, mainly. Sometimes the author seemed to go back and forward between third person limited (just Elvis's thoughts, feelings, etc.) and third person omniscient. Also, the numerous chapter endings and subtitles pertaining to Ni
Emon Boothe
May 18, 2015 Emon Boothe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I believe Chris Abani did a good job writing this book. The way he uses imagery just so you can actually feel that you were Elvis in the story during every situation he went through. Some teens can relate to this writing for the simple fact of trying to strive for your dreams even if the world tries to bring you down with more and more bad news. But you just have to fighting for what you believe the most. Elvis knew what he wanted to do even if the riots were happening and most of the people who ...more
Jan 12, 2015 Monique rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Three stars? Four stars? I just don't know. I listened to Mr. Abani narrate this book on Audible, and I'm sure that greatly influenced my experience of the book. Specifically, it was hard to follow. Each chapter includes a recipe from the protagonist's mother's journal, as well as a portion of a dissertation on the Igbo kola nut ritual. In addition, each chapter could take place in one of three different years, interwoven. All in all, it was a lot to try to follow while listening. I think readin ...more
Larhonda Boone
Jan 14, 2011 Larhonda Boone rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

We follow the protagonist, Elvis, through his coming-of-age in Nigeria; a country raked with poverty and violence. The story bounces between life before his mother died and his life after, which takes a terrible turn once his father, Sunday, quits his job with the hopes of winning a local election. Sunday uses alcohol to diffuse his hopelessness, all the while, leaving Elvis to fend for himself in their ravaged-torn landscape. We meet a variety of characters, family and frie
Rebecca Lawrence
Jan 03, 2012 Rebecca Lawrence rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Summed up, this book is a written soap opera with Nigerian actors and post-colonial plots. Overall it was a great book. I would have gave it 5 stars but it started to drag on in the middle. The main character, Elvis, is complex and human to a fault. His weaknesses are ones we all have but don't want to dwell on for too long, lest we have conflicting thoughts about ourselves and capabilities. The rest of the characters are equally as interesting and are developed well over the chapters. Some of t ...more
Jul 26, 2009 A rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to A by: Rambling Reader
Truly, 3.5 stars for this, a very strong debut novel. Difficult, at times, to read, but ultimately satisfying.

A goodreads friend recommended I take up this novel about a teenage Elvis impersonator living in 1980's Nigeria. Around the middle of the novel, the author did something I very much love authors doing: he listed books that were influential for the main character. Larry Brown did this in On Fire, leading me to the discovery of perhaps the most perfect novel from the South, Jack Butler's
Nicole Gervasio
May 21, 2012 Nicole Gervasio rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant and stunning. Abani's first novel touches on so many contemporary issues of race, class, and sexuality in Lagos without being aggravatingly ethnocentric (whatever ethnocentric moments exist are presented as purposeful parodies that complicate our expectations of "African," "Nigerian," "Igbo," "traditional," "native," etc. culture).

Elvis's character is troubled by his own fading idealism, sympathetic, and impressionable, often to his detriment. The symbolism in the book is deliberately
Stephanie Jobe
May 02, 2012 Stephanie Jobe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In Nigeria in 1983, there is a young man named Elvis. There is nothing spectacular about his life at first glance. His mother died when he was young. His relationship with his father can hardly be called such. Elvis loves dancing and impersonating his namesake, but what he really wants is to get out of his current situation. For the most part you follow Elvis through the year of 1983 with some flashbacks, but 1983 is enough. The things that happen to this young man in one years are enough to mak ...more
Mar 01, 2011 Jessica rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
My Amazon review: Graceland is a very difficult book to get into. The problem is not that the chapters alternate between the present and the past (if you are any kind of reader you've been there, done that), the problem is not that it is an unfamiliar landscape - we are talking 20th century Africa here. The problem is that after 100 pages, nothing has happened.

Now, that might be okay provided that there were some detailed character studies. Alas, there are none of these either.

I must echo an ear
Danielle Wood
May 22, 2012 Danielle Wood rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had the hardest time beginning to read this book. I'm not sure it was anything wrong with the book, but for some reason every time I started it I couldn't follow through. I finally willed myself to get this book read and I'm glad I did. I liked the book, I feel like the description of the book doesn't do it justice though. I can't really say that it doesn't fit or is wrong, because it's not--- it's just so much more. First here's what it says: "The sprawling, swampy, cacophonous city of Lagos, ...more
Shonna Froebel
Nov 17, 2012 Shonna Froebel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Set in Nigeria this story of Elvis Oke jumps back and forth from his life in Lagos in 1983 and his life in a small village in the 1970s and early 1980s. Elvis got his name from his mother's favourite singer. His mother, Beatrice, died when he was a child and he was raised by his father, Sunday and grandmother, Oye. He was also close to his aunt Felicia. After an upset in a local election, his father moved with him to Lagos, where they lived in a ghetto. Elvis has dropped out of school and tried ...more
Dec 26, 2011 Elizabeth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who hate poetry but like what it stands for
Shelves: 2011
This book reads like a delicate lilting voice, which is good as the circumstances and events are mostly not. It is set in 1980s Lagos, Nigeria, the ghetto, where we see life through the eyes of Elvis. A struggling teenage dancer of all things. I'd say this is a character study most of all, we follow him through the twists and turns of maneuvering adolescence and his struggles to make money to live, which isn't always pretty and rarely funny. The people of the ghetto are close, whether they wish ...more
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Christopher Abani (or Chris Abani) is a Nigerian author.

He was a political prisoner in Nigeria at various times during 1985 and 1991. At times he was held in solitary confinement and he was held on death row for some time after being sentenced to death for treason.

He is a Professor at the University of California, Riverside and the recipient of the PEN USA Freedom-to-Write Award, the 2001 Prince C
More about Chris Abani...

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