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Becoming Abigail [Paperback]

Chris Abani

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Book Description

March 1 2006

"Compelling and gorgeously written, this is a coming-of-age novella like no other. Chris Abani explores the depths of loss and exploitation with what can only be described as a knowing tenderness. An extraordinary, necessary book."—Cristina Garcia, author of Dreaming in Cuban

"Abani's voice brings perspective to every moment, turning pain into a beautiful painterly meditation on loss and aloneness."—Aimee Bender, author of The Girl in the Flammable Skirt

“Abani's empathy for Abigail's torn life is matched only by his honesty in portraying it. Nothing at all is held back. A harrowing piece of work.”—Peter Orner, author of The Esther Stories

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 inner light that will enlighten and uplift the reader.

Chris Abani is a poet and novelist and the author, most recently, of GraceLand, which won the 2005 PEN/Hemingway Prize, a Silver Medal in the California Book Awards, and was a finalist for several other prizes including the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. His other prizes include a PEN Freedom-to-Write Award, a Prince Claus Award, and a Lannan Literary Fellowship. He lives and teaches in California.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 120 pages
  • Publisher: Akashic Books (March 1 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1888451947
  • ISBN-13: 978-1888451948
  • Product Dimensions: 21.1 x 13.4 x 1.2 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 181 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #693,907 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Abani follows up GraceLand, his PEN/Faulkner Award–winning boy's coming-of-age novel, with a searing girl's coming-of-age novella in which a troubled Nigerian teen is threatened with becoming human trade. Abigail's mother died giving birth to her, leaving her, as she grows, with a crippling guilt that drives her to bizarre childhood mourning rituals and, later, with the responsibility of caring for her chronically depressed father. Repeated sexual violations by male relatives and the self-imposed expectation that she live up to her idealized image of her mother create unbearable pain and contradiction. When, at the halfway point of the book, Abigail's father sends her, at age 15 , to live with her cousin-by-marriage, Peter, in London, it's as much to free her from him as to give her more opportunities. But once she arrives, her "cousin" proves malevolent, and her dehumanization begins. Recalling Lucas Moodyson's crushing Lilya4Ever, this portrait of a brutalized girl given no control over her life or body, features Abani's lyrical prose (Abigail's father's armchair "smelled of the dreams of everyone who had sat in it") and deft moves between short chapters titled "Then" and "Now"—with the latter offering little promise. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Spare, haunting vignettes of exquisite delicacy tell of horrifying sexual brutality suffered by a young Nigerian girl and of her heartfelt anguish, alternating between "Now" in London, where her relatives try to force her into prostitution, and "Then" back in Ibadan, where her mother dies while giving birth to her. Abigail keeps trying to live up to the brave, independent activist mother, who was a judge at 35, and to make it up to her heartbroken dad for the loss of his wife. Raped by her cousin at age 10, she burns and cuts herself; then things get much worse. She fights back, and her punishment is appalling. Never sensationalized, the continual revelations are more shocking for being quietly told, compressed into taut moments that reveal secrets of cruelty--and of love--up to the last page. A prize-winning writer for Graceland (2003), Abani tells a strong young woman's story with graphic empathy. Hazel Rochman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars  25 reviews
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful and Devastating May 3 2006
By C. G. Jauregui - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Becoming Abigail is devastating in its deep understanding of the complexity human nature (both the beauty and the monstrosity). I am a woman and I am amazed at Abani's ability to understand and portray a female voice. This novel is sad, terrifying, moving and every page of it rings true.

The prose style is sparse, for example (from chapter 31): "The comfort of simple things. Coffee percolating. Cinnamon buns warming oven and home. An ice cold Coca-Cola on a hot day, Licking out the mixing bowl. Chocolate. Childhood... And what would be the line for her?... A line is a lie. Who can tell what it will open unto." And in this unpredictable strong novella, who can tell indeed? Abani's style here is fearless (you can read how he has distilled his prose from Graceland to Becoming Abigail) and its rhythm ranges from a paused, minimalist riff, to a painful staccato, to the intensity of a fluid jazz solo.

This is a fast read that will singe your brain. Abani gives the reader no easy answers, as indeed no good artist should. He raises questions.

Through this beautifully told story, in the vein of films like Moodysson's Lilya4ever, calls our attention to one of the world's most overwhelming exploitative practices: the sexual slavery of women and children, not only in Nigeria/Britain but everywhere.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Abigail, I wish I could have helped you... Feb. 18 2007
By S.A.I - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I honestly haven't ever read a book quite like this. It is in one word 'wow!'
Short, painful (almost masochistic to read, nearly like self flagellating), raw and honest.

You will be glad to get to the end of the book but you won't dare skip a page in the process.

Abigail's story couldn't have been told in any other or possibly better form or manner. Chris Abani is such a mature, heavily talented writer and he manipulates and owns his language.

This is my second read of his works and I will keep on reading him. He speaks for the underdogs who have no voice, no easy feat.

Chris Abani makes me proud to be Nigerian and Ibo and reminds me of the possibilities.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars She never really existed May 2 2006
By O. Akoma - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Yesterday I finished this book during my commute to work, and back home. Simply put, and unfortunately to use an inadequate and trite phrase, this book left an indelible impression on me, and I can't quite find the right words to describe this feeling. Except to say this book is exquisitely haunting. I can understand the previous reviewer's reaction to this material, in that nothing seems to be held back in this book. You are truly taken into the heart of darkness in this book, in a manner that is very raw. Abigail's horrors are quite disquieting to say the least, and can lead one to be easily repulsed- this book is not for the faint of heart.

However, in my opinion, the prose is taught and shows a great deal of restraint. It would be too easy to sensationalize and glorify the horrors depicted, as is what we are used to in current films, graphic novels, fiction, etc. If anything, the prose is executed in a poetic way, which distills and softens the gravity of the events being described. This book is not light fare.

This tiny book attempts to do in a very small space, what many books five times its size so often cannot achieve. It tells a harrowing story of a life lived, that was not truly alive, almost an account of a ghostlike way of being. Abigail, this Abigail never had a chance.

I also am grateful to the author for the size of this material, I am not sure I could have handled much more suffering.

It is not perfect, but damn it is noteworthy and good.

Thanks for reading.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping - I wanted MORE June 21 2006
By Lover and reader of all things written - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is a very quick read, but not because it was not engaging. As a matter of fact, I kept reading because I wanted to know more...and you will be the same way. Although it's short, it's probably all I could handle - very deep!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not Just Another Great Author July 27 2007
By Roberto Carlos Martinez (Author) - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I had never read anything by Christopher Abani. When I first saw this book, I noticed many people were purchasing it in the bookstore. Since then it sparked my interest and I decided to read it. I am always willing to read something new. From the moment I read the first page, I was hooked. It's a beautifully written piece of work. Every word is chosen with such care. The book is placed together so perfectly, leading to a surpising ending and an explanation on what really happened with this young girl.

Abigail is such a comnplex character and so human. When you read it, you feel as if you know this girl.

I have no complaints about this piece of writing, it's wonderful. Abani has definitely made me a fan and I will definitely read some of his other works.
ARRAY(0xae4e4858)

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