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Becoming Abigail

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  536 ratings  ·  90 reviews
Tough, spirited, and fiercely independent Abigail is brought as a teenager to London from Nigeria by relatives who attempt to force her into prostitution. She flees, struggling to find herself in the shadow of a strong but dead mother. In spare yet haunting and lyrical prose reminiscent of Marguerite Duras, Abani brings to life a young woman who lives with a strength and ...more
Paperback, 122 pages
Published March 15th 2006 by Akashic Books (first published March 1st 2006)
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Chris Abani is a novelist and poet who often writes about his native Nigeria. Graceland, his novel about a boy in whiteface growing up poor in Lagos, broke onto the literary scene like a storm. Since then, Abani has written several books of poetry, as well as novels and novellas, all of which look frankly at conditions under which the most exploitable among us must live.

Becoming Abigail looks at the life of a young girl raised by her father in Nigeria. Her mother, also called Abigail, died in
Mattia Ravasi
Nov 18, 2015 rated it liked it
My original review was one line went simply "It does bite hard." I later realized what a horrible, horrible pun that would have been.

Seriously though, a haunting short story.
Dec 11, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Loved this novella from the brilliant Nigerian poet and author Chris Abani, who desribes himself as a "zealot of optimism". The story is focused on a young Nigerian girl "Abigail" who's mother of the same name died giving birth to her. It shows both the daughter's and her father's ways of dealing with her death, and the daughter's escape from prostitution. Difficult topic, done with superb narrative. Very powerful work.
Endora harris
Sep 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
OMG! This book is beyond belief! The treatment regarding abuse of women in Africa and its attached social ills are piled up like a deck of cards then they all come tumbling down-like the establishment should. I loved this book, but you better have a strong stomach to deal with what's really going on.
Nov 26, 2012 rated it liked it
Incredibly beautiful imagery. Abani is doing wonderful things with language, and his style is to the point, sharp, and startling, and his images are striking. There were, however, a few areas where the repetition of certain phrases and words were distracting. If this had come up in one of my workshops, I would have had a lot to say about using the word "loam" in nearly every chapter.
Apr 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audiobook
I listened to the audible narration by Robin Miles - for someone who doesn't usually like female narrators, she did a great one. This is my first read of Chris Abani and I am sure it won't be my last and I think I will even read this book again as I think his work, poetic and abrasive at the same time, deserves close reading. It is a difficult topic well written with the novella's structure switching between The and Now chapters - this helps us as a reader cope with the terror and loneliness ...more
The book is about a young girl, Abigail, who is named for her mother, who dies during childbirth. Abigail comes from a Nigerian family, a highly patriarchal culture, and her father is completely distraught over his wifes death. His pain is made worse by the fact that Abigail looks just like her mother, causing her father to see only his dead wife in her. Abigail also suffers from bouts of insanity, spurred by her search for identity – she is compared to her mother so often by her father that she ...more
Jan 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Kathy Davie
Sep 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: horror, biography
A brief, but in-depth look inside the life of a young Igbo girl from her beginning in Nigeria to her end in London. Born even as her mother, the original Abigail, died, Abigail is torn between being her mother and being herself.

Abani helps us see how Abigail's life has taught her to see herself and the people who surround her. She's a survivor constantly fighting against those who would use her. Until she realizes that, when she does make a choice, others fight against her.

My Take
Gawd. Makes
Mti Librarian
A shocking and yet compelling portrait of Abigail, struggling to come out from her mother's shadow and abused by pretty much all the men and boys surrounding her.

"And even light can become dirty, falling sluggish and parchment-yellow across a floor pitted by hope walked back and forth, the slap of slipper on concrete echoing the heat gritting its teeth on the tin roof, the sound sometimes like rain, other times like the cat-stretch of metal expanding and contracting."

"She ran her fingers
Mar 23, 2010 rated it really liked it
Abani's prose is beautiful in Becoming Abigail. A few times I wondered if Abani himself would have edited out some cliches in his writing, if one of his students had turned it in as creative writing, but these were very few compared to the overwhelming prevalence of novel imagery and striking language. The story of the daughter, who tries very hard not to become Abigail, and a girl, who painfully becomes a woman, is mostly disturbing and uncomfortable. Time travel is done well, as the narration ...more
Jul 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I had a hard time deciding how to rate this book and finally decide on "it was amazing" because the writing was amazing. On the one had it was a hard book to read, because the subject was so sad and disturbing, but on the other hand it was beautifully written. There were passages I felt like I wanted to memorize and it was deeply affecting. The kind of book that just takes your breath away at the end and you have to sit for a few minutes after you finish to regain yourself. I know in my head ...more
Jan 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Abani at the Geraldine R. Dodge poetry festival in 2008. This was not so much a book but a work of art. It is not something you can borrow and give back-I have to possess this. There are so many scenes and turns of phrase that are like a 3D poem, a sculpture, a palpable piece of art. A girl who struggles to find herself-in the ashes of her mother's memory and the pain and despair of her father as he abused her. The child never really gets to live and yet somehow ...more
Jan 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This book bounces (clearly) between modern day and memories of the main character, Abigail. This is a book about how a young woman becomes herself but also how she becomes her mother (and name sake). It is a short book (just over 100 pages) but it is profound and heartbreaking. As a young girl, not only does Abigail abuse herself, but she's also abused by those around her who should be protecting such a damaged girl who has to live in the shadow of her mother who was very deeply loved by her ...more
Jan 11, 2009 marked it as 1-mfa-finished
I heard Abani speak on the craft of writing last summer - he was so profound that I was almost in tears. I read Abigail for my writer's reading group and although I found the book over the top with unmitigated suffering, Abani's ability to keep the reader reading such difficult material through his technical use of distancing and even poetry was very interesting. At first I was offended by the use of beautiful language to embody such misery but it's that very poetry that elevated the book from ...more
Dec 15, 2007 rated it it was amazing
The saddest story, written about a horrid subject, turns out to be one of the most well-written books of all time. It holds you gripped in it's clutches well after the last pages is turned. The 120-page novella, from Chris Abani, Becoming Abigail haunts me from the first time I read it - it calls from my bookshelves to be read on occasion and I wanted to suggest you download or order it from Amazon today, It will touch your heart for ever. The prose reads like poetry, the descriptions evocative, ...more
Leilani Clark
Feb 12, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommended to Leilani by: Johnny Temple
The brutality documented in this novella about a fourteen year old Igbo girl whose mother dies in childbirth, father commits suicide, and who is transplanted to England by an uncle who wants to sell her into prositution, left me with a heavy feeling of doom and dismay. Abani is a poet as well as a novelist and so this does feel more like an extended poem at times, with a lilting imagery laden prose that is quite often beautiful in its simplicity. I felt nothing but pity for Abigail as she cuts ...more
Apr 23, 2013 rated it liked it
The style was beautiful, clearly a novel by a poet. The story weaves together two times, so they each reflect upon the other, and that is well done, but some of it... I don't know, I feel like it was trying to build a particular shape and ended up in a different one instead, that it didn't quite succeed. But it is hard to be objective. I think if I read it again (which I am not certain when I would) I might see more, because I will know what it is building to.
Tikiri Herath
Feb 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Harrowing. Riveting.
Brilliant. Poetic. Real.

Chris does not write like us ordinary writers. He sings into the pages so when a reader opens the book, the stories waft out like rare songs in the wind. He must be one of the most brilliant writers of modern time and I hope to have the honour of meeting him one of these days. There is not much more I can say than this.
Mar 20, 2010 rated it really liked it
A heart-wrenching story cloaked in a stunningly prosaic voice.
It rhythmically revolts, caresses and tugs at your emotions.
The writing is at once dazzling and distressing.
Chris Albani doesn't spare the pain, but he does offer it up with powerfully scripted prose!
Jun 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
Like a gruesome accident by the roadside that you don't want to see but are compelled to look at, this book eloquently lures the reader into the deeply disturbing story of a young African girl subjected to repeated abuse on two continents.
Feb 26, 2013 rated it liked it
This is a well written novela about a very troubled young girl from Africa whose mother dies in childbirth. She suffers abuse at the hands of every male figure in her life and things do not turn out well. Abani is a talented writer, but the subject matter is a little disturbing.
Oct 29, 2009 rated it really liked it
Abani's style of writing is beautiful but quite vivid, so get ready for some disturbing imagery.

The story was powerful, I actually was unable to sleep after finishing this book. If you're looking for a light read, this is not it.
Wils Cain
Jun 02, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This was so beautifully written. Everyone should read this. A girl growing up in her mother's shadow after her mother dies in childbirth. Eventually she (Abigail) is sent away to live in London with her cousin for a chance at a better life, where exactly the opposite happens.
Dec 01, 2019 rated it it was ok
2 stars

Method read: physical

I can see why this is such a celebrated book, but I had a few problems with it.

First of all, it's melodramatic. Everything that happens is horrible and sad and gross in a way that life just isn't. I prefer books that illustrate the drama of life alongside the quiet, inconsequential moments but this rarely did that. There was a pile-on of nothing but tragedy and I hate reading books like that.

Secondly, Abigail as a character has no agency. Things happen to her and she
Maureen Onyeziri
Apr 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Haunting, crisp, riveting, compelling, beautifully written, sublime, harrowing, delicate and poetic are just a few adjectives I can think of to describe this novella. In writing this book, Chris revealed himself as everything I already know him to be: brilliant, gifted, a wizard. This novella takes us into the life of Abigail, a young Nigerian woman whose mother died in childbirth and whose father never quite recovered from the loss. She is sent off to the UK to live with a relative who, in ...more
Muna Mangue
Nov 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
History written in two stages: the before and now, about the unfortunate life of Abigail, a 14-year-old Nigerian girl who has been abused by her relatives since she was ten.
Abigail takes care of her father from a young age, unable to support himself since his wife died giving birth to his daughter. Both live with the torment of not being good enough for each other. The mother left a very deep emptiness in her, unable to meet her, and in her father, unable to care for a daughter who seems to
The Book Addict (Bite-Sized Reviews)
“sometimes there is no way to leave something behind.”

T H O U G H T S:

a short and spirited story of a girl's now and then, written in lyrical, disjointed prose. it is a difficult book to read. for me, the narrative as a whole felt lacking, in need of more depth and direction.

R A T I N G:

plot // 3
pacing // 3
language // 5
story world // 5
protagonist // 4
antagonist // 4
secondary characters // 3

“there is only so much we can do to save those we love.”
Jan 18, 2018 rated it liked it
This book was one of the most difficult books I've ever read. Sexual abuse against children—giant trigger warning, everyone! Abigail is barely acknowledged by her father and then sent to live with a cousin, whose husband does unspeakable things. I can't even start to describe this to you without shuddering, but it has stuck with me.
I was with this book until it took a turn and an already bleak book introduces additional CSA that some other reviewers called a "passionate" but "illicit" "affair." Hard pass.
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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
“This is the prevalence of ritual. To remember something that cannot be forgotten.” 2 likes
“Abigail read in Reader’s Digest that all plane landings were controlled crashes. Like the way we live our lives, she thought. Bumble through doing the best we can and hoping that some benevolence keeps us from crashing.” 1 likes
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