T. H. White's classic 1938 re-interpretation of the ancient legend brims with humor and insight, wisdom and delight. (This is a more light-hearted readT. H. White's classic 1938 re-interpretation of the ancient legend brims with humor and insight, wisdom and delight. (This is a more light-hearted read than the re-worked 1939 version, which describes Wart's added experiences as ant and snow-goose.)...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 earlyThis 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 tragicomic dilemma of the protagonist, a gifted, largely self-educated boy with a drive to excel in his calling, who, through a combination of circumstance, naivete, and willful self-delusion, settles upon a career so ludicrous and impossible (and so pleasingly telling--I love this kind of writing, which often means so much more than it overtly says) that even while you laugh out loud from time to time, the character is so engaging, and the book so filled with empathy and love, that you more often ache for him and his country, and from time to time are simply dazzled by the beauty of his doomed efforts.
I have never read a better book about Nigeria.
Makota is a terrible place, in which, as you expect, a multitude of horrifying events unfold, but what sets this book apart from others which explore Nigeria's brutal recent history is the honest examination of each excruciating and lovely detail of the protagonist's life. There is a lyrical turning over, and over, and unfolding of each event, and the place each character holds in the story is revealed anew when seen again and again, now from this angle and now from that. And while much of what we see and experience through the narrative is brutal or painful and simply ugly, just as often you take in your breath in wonder, that such a story could be rendered so beautifully.
Abani is a gifted writer. The final chapters, though, did not maintain the breathtaking beauty and sadness of the first half of the book, and the characters, so engaging and full at first, flattened out a bit. I also found that the sudden introduction of the supernatural in the final chapter lifted me out of the story altogether, and diluted the power of the narrative.
Still it's a beautiful book in many ways, and stunning in its ambition. ...more
**spoiler alert** In a way, the portrait we are given of the birth of Biafra in this book is as bee-yoo-ti-ful as the too-too-good-to-be true Olanna.**spoiler alert** In a way, the portrait we are given of the birth of Biafra in this book is as bee-yoo-ti-ful as the too-too-good-to-be true Olanna. They are both tragic heroines, but it's hard to believe in either one of them.
If the Biafra we are shown in this book more closely resembled Olanna's more interesting sister--flawed and unbeautiful, in many ways unknowable, but clever, driven, and cloaked in a quirky, cutting humor--the book might have been a pleasure to read. Rather, I found myself tempted to flip ahead a few pages each time the stiflingly sweet Olanna or her cardboard parents were trotted out, or to rip the pages out altogether each time Ugwu's worldview is presented, unchanging to the last. (Really? *He* somehow ended up with enough insight to tell the story of Biafra?)
The opening chapters are beautiful and evocative, promising textured characters and nuanced themes. However, the author seemed to lose interest in all that is hinted at in the opening chapters; even the savory-as-a-cashew little Ugwu from in the opening chapter is rancid by the middle of the book, his childish perspective from the opening chapter embarrassingly outgrown but not discarded, riding up around the knees of his teenaged self, awkward and ill-fitting. Indeed, *all* the characters remain esentially static, unidimensional, trapped in the bubble in which they were created in the opening chapters. They remain inwardly unchanged by war, famine, violence, betrayal, and suffering--all of which are vividly depicted, but which effect only cartoonish changes in the characters whose lives they savage. Olanna develops fainting spells, Odenigbo drinks cheap liquor and has an affair, Ugwu is drafted and commits that rape he's been fantasizing about since the opening chapters. (I suppose his epiphany is that it is rape to have sex with an unwilling partner.)
Ultimately the reader cannot believe in the uncreasingly unsympathetic characters, or, sadly, Biafra, at all. The only character in whose fate I felt invested, Kainene the ugly sister, is, of course, killed in the war....more
The books of Douglas Adams, a self-named "radical atheist," make for very amusing reading. But reading this series back to back can leave you relatingThe books of Douglas Adams, a self-named "radical atheist," make for very amusing reading. But reading this series back to back can leave you relating a little bit to (his repressed alter-ego, I have to wonder) Marvin the Depressed Robot. ...more