This is the first book-length critical reading of the prose works of the Nigerian, America-settled, ‘global Igbo’ writer Chris Abani. Addressing his three novels – GraceLand (2004), The Virgin of Flames (2007), and The Secret History of Las Vegas (2014) – and the two novellas Becoming Abigail (2006) and Song for Night (2007), the book Chris Abani combines an original overview of the author’s career and new insights into his works. It provides a full picture of the oeuvre of a writer who is more and more asserting his worth in the international arena, and whose work stands out for the richness of its poetic language, its complex investigation of the contemporary human experience in a variety of extreme and surprising situations, and its probing ethical gaze. Building on the notions of biopolitics, necropolitics, mediascape imagination, and the performative quality of subjectivity, this volume highlights Abani’s ability to represent the tragedies and horrors of our times while also signalling the possibility of redemption. His characters’ attempts to find ways of becoming themselves, together with a poetical writing that clashes against the violence of history and humankind, make Abani’s work a significant contribution to the contemporary debate about human rights and literature.
The work is larger than the writer, larger than the critic and, in
many ways, if we are lucky, larger than the historical moment.
Abani in interview with Goyal
Critical responses to ChrisAbani’s prose works
are an index of how deeply and innovatively they speak to our unsettled times, and of how far
they push for a revision of both the aesthetics and ethics of literature. Our study moves
from and builds on the voices of reviewers and scholars from various disciplinary
GraceLand , what type of novel?
GraceLand is ChrisAbani’s first acclaimed novel, winner of the 2004 Barnes and Noble Discover New
Writers Award, the 2005 Hemingway Foundation / PEN Award, and the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award
for Debut Fiction, among others. 1 A
syncretic narration that mixes European literature and Caribbean music, the Holy Quran and
American comics, Western movies and Bollywood films, Nigerian food and Igbo recipes, GraceLand has as its protagonist Elvis Oke, a Nigerian boy who leaves
://politicsandculture.org/issue/2003-issue-3/ , and Human
Rights, Inc.: The World Novel, Narrative Form, and International Law (New York:
Fordham University Press, 2007) .
J. Vening, ‘Fiction: Song for Night
by ChrisAbani’, M/C Journal (28 June 2008) .
F. Giommi, ‘Negotiating freedom on scarred
bodies: ChrisAbani’s novellas’, in A. Oboe and S. Bassi (eds),
Experiences of Freedom in Postcolonial Literatures and Cultures (Abingdon and New
The Secret History of Las Vegas .
Abani in interview with C. Tóibín,
‘ChrisAbani by Colm Tóibín’, BOMB Magazine , 96 (1 July
2006) . https://bombmagazine.org/articles/chris-abani/ . All websites last accessed 7 April
See Abani’s slightly divergent accounts in
‘Abigail and my becoming’, Truthdig (19 April 2006) . www.truthdig.com/articles/chris-abani-abigail-and-my-becoming/ ; and in Z. Kaufman, ‘In conversation with author ChrisAbani
This study of ChrisAbani’s writing –
the remarkable narrative range of his production and the compelling quality of his stories,
in which love and violence compete, mingle, lose, and win – proposes that its power
and beauty greatly hinge on the writer’s ability to face life in all its
manifestations and to represent extreme forms of brutality and cruelty alongside unforeseen
gestures of kindness. This, in a nutshell, is what drives his writing: an exploration of
violence (against other human beings, against the
honour of the Catholic angel, one of the characters of The Virgin of Flames .
See A. Aycock, ‘Becoming black and Elvis:
transnational and performative identity in the novels of ChrisAbani’,
Safundi , 10:1 (2009) , 11–25, and C. Stobie,
‘Indecent theology, trans-theology, and the transgendered Madonna in ChrisAbani’s The Virgin of Flames ’, Research in African Literatures ,
42:2 (2011), 170–83 .
Stobie, ‘Indecent theology’, p. 171; C. Duboin
by Obi Nwakanma with reference to GraceLand and The Virgin of Flames , but also pointed out here in Chapter 3 on Becoming Abigail . See
O. Nwakanma, ‘O, Polyphemus: on poetry and alienation’,
ARIEL , 39:4 (2008), 136–49 .
Y. Goyal, ‘A deep humanness, a deep grace:
interview with ChrisAbani’, Research in African Literatures , 45:3 (2014), p.
Goyal, ‘A deep humanness’, pp. 237–8.
See C. Ross
Dinaw Mengestu’s The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears (2007) and Teju Cole’s Open City (2011)
relationships are difficult to parse or sentimentalise, they bring to light traumatic realities of globalisation: statelessness, rootlessness, and psychic dislocation. A crucial continuity with previous chapters is that Mengestu and Cole privilege male friendship as a figure through which to mediate and imagine the possibilities for, and limits of, cross-cultural connection and transnational belonging.
With ChrisAbani, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Ike Oguine, among others, Mengestu and Cole belong to a cohort of authors that Louis Chude-Sokei describes