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The Virgin of Flames

3.59  ·  Rating Details ·  335 Ratings  ·  48 Reviews
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 uncomp ...more
ebook, 304 pages
Published January 30th 2007 by Penguin Books (first published January 1st 2007)
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This novel by Chris Abani is the literary equivalent of a Diane Arbus photograph—unsettling, terrible, grotesque, yet artistic. In the strange underbelly of the City of Angels Abani finds a kind of hope that describes something in human nature. His dreams, his attempts to “attend his ghosts,” are difficult to look at, but of all the people we might choose to illuminate the depths of human natures, Abani is among the most courageous and compassionate.

Ambiguous sexuality and race, death and desire
i am blown away by this fantastic book. i tried to read it a few years ago but i wasn't in the right space and i found it too difficult. some of it is prose poetry. many passages are stunning. i am tempted to copy the whole rosary gloss here but it's long. read it. find it and read it. amazing stuff.

black is a grown man who's spiraling downward while gripped by conflicting powerful forces, among them an uncontrollable creative drive (he paints murals), torturous childhood memories, apparitions
Nicole Gervasio
This is a novel which, lamentably, is too often mistaken for a representation of "real life" (whatever that is) for queer and trans people of color (and/or sex workers) in Los Angeles. Abani's said it himself before (look up his TED Talks online-- they're great)-- that a gendered or raced person is inevitably read for his identity rather than his imagination.

If you're going to read this novel, the worst thing you could do is put on the anthropologist's khaki hat, walk in with your legal pad, an
Jun 24, 2008 Wyatt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fans of Middlesex will surely like The Virgin of Flames. The synopsis (a street artist who's obsessed with a transexual) had me unsure that it would be my kind of book, despite having loved Abani's last book, Graceland. Abani picks up where he left off with the strange eroticism that his last character got out of putting on makeup as an Elvis impersonator, and takes it to the next level...hell, he takes it ten levels beyond that, into a gritty, beautiful, story of a muralist in L.A. which is als ...more
David Sasaki
May 15, 2008 David Sasaki rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There are two ways for me to think about The Virgin of Flames. A.) it is a typical (and overdone) coming of age novel from a liberal UC professor focused on gender, sexuality and ethnicity. Or, B.) it's a probing study of East and Downtown LA from a global citizen who is at once native and guest of Lagos, London, and Los Angeles. Obviously, I prefer sticking with B. For anyone who has waited hours in LA's Union Station or who has bought a piñata on Olympic, Abani's descriptions ring truer and cl ...more
Oct 19, 2009 Rashaan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
A violent and visceral take on the abstract experience of being multi-racial in the United States. Abani physicalizes what can often be a very nebulous and ephemeral existence, and stabs onto the page the confusion, the shape-shifting, and liminal consciousness of mixed race identities. Set in the City of Angels, he brilliantly captures what often defies language.
Jan 22, 2009 Chad rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
chilling, hilarious and tragic. all the more incredible after seeing C.Abani read last Friday night in the District of Columbia. weaves together gender, race, catholicism, child abuse, black outs, and the Blackmobile (a yellow VW bus) into some stellar depictions of Los Angeles.
Amanda Birdwell
I feel bad. I certainly do not have the street cred to *not* love this book by a gay, politically oppressed Nigerian. And I have to say that at least I was able to finish this one -- unlike Graceland, which I have checked out and returned about a million times. I just... I just don't want to hear that much about penises.

I get that it is a valid topic to write about. I even imagine that, five years ago, I could have written a fabulously self-indulgent paper on Black and his penis and his experie
Tyler Stoffel
Jun 05, 2012 Tyler Stoffel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Black, a 36-year-old (the age of Christ) half-Nigerian half-Salvadorean mural artist spends his time being chased around East LA by the archangel Gabriel while he obsesses over a transexual stripper and his own desire to dress in women's clothes, as he paints a fifty-foot tall mural of the Virgin of Fatima. Sounds crazy, but it is told so well that I believe it. I loved the dirty city imagery and the casual drug use portrayed.

Very good characters, Black, Ziggy and Bomboy are all interesting, and
Kate Gould
Feb 18, 2010 Kate Gould rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Los Angeles, California. Black is a busy man. By day he collects racist and sexist jokes from toilets for his mural (one from Buckingham Palace via Sharon Osborne), while being stalked by Archangel Gabriel, and obsessing over transvestite stripper, Sweet Girl. By night he stands atop his spaceship in Iggy the psychic tattooist’s wedding dress, letting devotees believe he is the Virgin Mary.

It’s so self-consciously edgy, it’s painful. Maybe I’m a cynical conventionalist, but I’m not sold on his c
Ann Keren-zvi
Jul 19, 2012 Ann Keren-zvi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The characters in the book are fable like and the story takes place in East LA. The beautiful, gritty prose elegantly capture an essence of a city known as the City of Angels. I will continue to read passages from this book because of the writing. Mr Abani's chapters click off like photographs, and like a photograph can privately and intimately draw you into that world.
Feb 10, 2009 Jamila rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lgbtq, california
This book surprised me. It was heartbreaking and sad; yet, there were spots of humor and joy. Abani wrote with amazing poetry. His descriptions of Los Angeles were specific and colorful. His characters were honest and triumphant, even as they were shameful and violent.
Apr 11, 2007 Megan rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: imbeciles
Shelves: haveread
You should read this book if you enjoy hearing other people bitch and moan about how hard their lives are in a painful fashion that lacks wit and clever design.
Mar 05, 2016 Peter rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Sep 09, 2008 Mariana rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is astoundingly beautiful and devastating. It is dark and funny and really gets at the confusion of cities, gender, masculinity, and child hood. It is also irreverent and experimental.
Chella Courington
this novel is fabulous, told from the pov of a transsexual. abani does a lovely job of turning LA into an affectionate character. lyrically moving.
Patrick Limcaco
You may not be familiar with the people in Chris Abani’s The Virgin of Flames, but they are the sort of personalities you would love to gossip about. Instead of figuring what this novel is all about, you may be better off marveling at the oddities of the characters.

The novel follows its protagonist, Black, around Los Angeles as he tries to come to terms with his hauntingly ugly childhood through his art. He is a 30-something muralist on a quest to find himself in the vibrant city. He is introduc
Jul 13, 2008 Jose rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 19, 2008 Dusty rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
screw this book, if i read one more story about a "tragic" person with "abuse, race and gender issues" i am going to start ripping out pages.
why do authors insist on burning up the best parts of us multigendered into their wierd ass fantasies and dramas.
i am no longer a fan of this abani person. i appreciated his other book graceland. but i would like to ask him a question "mister abani why do you feature sex workers who are turned on by violence? it is not reality. yes, trans women like sweet g
Oct 09, 2016 Alice rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: uct-2016
This is one of the most powerful novels I have read in a long while – it reads like a vivid dream and is infused with complex, interwoven themes stemming from literary tradition, popular culture, Igbo heritage, sexual identities, notions of performance (reading in tandem with Judith Butler = a great idea), Christianity, etc. This novel paints Los Angeles as gritty-but-redemptive (through elements of magical realism) and maintains an enthralling pace. It is courageous and unapologetic, and in ord ...more
Anne Crow
Jan 19, 2017 Anne Crow rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Okay, so it's not his second novel, and it's weird to read the NYT review as where they write as if he's a new author. No, he's just new to the States. He wrote in Nigeria before and then in England in exile.

Anyway, this is not my favorite of his books to read, I felt oddly detached from the main character and it wasn't until I finished reading it that I realized I was supposed to. As I think about it since, the book is kind of unfolding itself and shifting in my mind, becoming more of a concret
Apr 19, 2013 Al rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Subculture LA, artist communities, and transgendered lust. Five days after finishing this book, I still don't know how I feel about it. It's a little too quirky/edgy for quirky/edgy's sake, but it touches on so many fabulous themes: The frustration of thinking that other people see/know us better than we see ourselves, the struggle (and failure) for self-realization, the idea that our fantasy of who someone is is often better than (or at least different from)the reality. It's a book that makes y ...more
Despite the three stars, this was not really a mediocre read. I really enjoyed the writing in the first half, especially the descriptions of Los Angeles. The characters were also intriguing, yet emotionally realistic ... not just quirky in that usual paper thin, formulaic way. I seriously considered buying and reading all his books. But for some reason the prose reads a little more purple in the second half, and the momentum of the story sort of peters out. What's making me ambivalent is that th ...more
Laryssa Wirstiuk
I couldn't finish the book. In fact, I couldn't read past the first 1/4 of it. The book had some shining moments of imagery; Black's inability to find sexual release during one prostitute/stripper bender stands out as a vivid scene. However, there was absolutely NOTHING, in my opinion, moving the narrative forward. What is at stake for the character? I didn't really understand why I should care about him, and the details of his art were so "out there" that I couldn't fully imagine it or take it ...more
Sep 23, 2012 Alfie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: los-angeles
I just finished reading this book five minutes ago and I have goosebumps. This is a BEAUTIFULLY written novel by Abani, taking me to a journey of a city that I grew up in, but in an area where I have the luxury to put one foot in and one foot out. This book should not only be focused on its references on the subjects of dysfunctional family, rape, identity issues, rape and sexual identity, it is a visually poetic story of a lost soul living in the opposite end of celebrated Los Angels, being sha ...more
Olumide Popoola
Feb 01, 2014 Olumide Popoola rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an interesting book (in the good sense of the word). Abani throws open a lot of doors and mixes existentialist angst with gender exploration, dual heritage, tradition, religion, gritty inner city realities... I liked it a lot, I just think the protagonist has a little too much testosterone-driven self-absorption to really root for him. In the end I cared a little more for the issues explored, rather than the story (main character).
I read this after Bolano's 2666. So I think I was kind of in withdrawl and didn't really get excited about the writing or story until about half way through. I liked the book. I wonder how much is autobiographical or otherwise true. I will probably be going to the Ugly Store next time I'm in LA at least to get a cup of coffee. LA is really the main charecter. I want to Read Becoming Abigail to compare his treatment of London.
Tom Ratliff
Nov 29, 2009 Tom Ratliff rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is one of those books where you never really know what's going on...but it keeps you hooked. So don't count on the ending to clear anything up, except the main character shows his ass and acts like a man when he really wants to be a's supposed to show the gritty side of LA, but I think other books show that in a more accessible fashion.
Aug 28, 2016 Jody rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: recycled, fiction
This book is set in Los Angeles. The main character, Black, has had a dreadful childhood, beaten and humiliated by his mother. He is an artist that largely paints graffiti on city walls.

He is in love with a stripper who we later find out is male. Black wishes to be in female attire.

He is depressed the whole book. I was too, reading about his life.
David Musgraves
Jun 06, 2015 David Musgraves rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
I read this after loving The Secret History of Las Vegas by Abani, but I was much less impressed by this one. I think this is an earlier effort by Abani than TSHOLV, which makes me hopeful that his next book will be even better.

If you're only going to read one book by Abani, read TSHOLV.
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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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