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3.79 of 5 stars 3.79  ·  rating details  ·  1,546 ratings  ·  167 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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Jul 11, 2009 Rona rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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
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
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
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
Jay Z
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
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
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
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
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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.
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
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
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
Emon Boothe
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
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

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
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
A. Gamble
Jul 26, 2009 A. Gamble rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to A. Gamble 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
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
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
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
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
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 4 of 5 stars  ·  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
Nicole Janik
I had to read this book for one of my contemporary fiction classes, and was generally impressed with it. The culture of Nigeria was almost tangible while reading, as though it had been infused into the grains of the paper, and I could run my hands over it. The following review is an edited excerpt of my short response paper from the class.
Abani’s work deals heavily with polarized extremes, examining not only the best that the world is capable of, but also illustrating its worst potential, as we
Anduriña Teodora
It was very hard for me to get into this book because the characters felt like caricatures from a Nollywood script. It was hard for me to believe this world that Albani created because some of the dialogue and character development felt forced and unrealistic. With that being said, Mr. Albani delivers a strangely poetic prose and uses beautiful imagery even in the most morose moments of the book. I appreciate the knowledge I have gained about Nigeria and its history. I've grown a strange attachm ...more
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Jun 21, 2013 Edwin rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Edwin by: Nobody
WHEN a good book ends, I feel sorry that it's over.It was a reet riveting read, that got better & better as it went on, with credible characters. An unusual book for me to read, because it was a novel. I first 'heard' about this book when it was quoted in Mike Davis's book(2006) Planet of Slums, & I thought this book sounds interesting. My parents were missionaries in Nigeria, near Port Harcourt in the mid 50's, & I've lived in Africa myself, though not Nigeria, so some of things we ...more
This is my first time reading a young contemporary African writer and Abani presents a portrait of Africa which is very much in keeping with recent images/media about the current state of despair, poverty, war and corruption. One feels like the future of Africa is headed in a downward spiral into Dante's inferno. Take the recent documentary DARWIN'S NIGHTMARE for example - you hit the edge of despair learning how Lake Victoria's ecology has been screwed by Western scientists who introduced a non ...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
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