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The Secret History of Las Vegas: A Novel
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The Secret History of Las Vegas: A Novel [Kindle Edition]

Chris Abani
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Sold by: Penguin Group USA
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Product Description


Praise for The Secret History of Las Vegas:

“[A]n unsettling and complex entanglement of outsiders, freak shows, secret government experiments into mental illness, racism, sexual exploitation and fighting dwarfs….What lifts the novel is its energy, the audacity of Abani’s imagination, and most all the breadth of vision.”—The New York Times Book Review

The Secret History of Las Vegas is not your standard crime novel....It’s Tony Hillerman as filtered through J. M. Coetzee, a moving, strange and savagely funny book.”—Los Angeles Times

The Secret History of Las Vegas brings an admirably global perspective to the crime novel. Every noir needs a victim of circumstance, but here the circumstances are the military-industrial complex and state-sponsored racism.”—The Washington Post

"Abani's latest is not an ordinary crime novel....Everyone is fucked."—The New Inquiry

“An intricate braid of story strands, enriched by vivid descriptions, intriguingly dysfunctional characters, and abundant metaphors. Expect the unexpected.”—Booklist

“Lambent prose lifts this offbeat crime novel from PEN/Hemingway Award-winner [Chris] Abani.”—Publishers Weekly

“[I]n this grim but beautifully written tale…Abani creates vivid metaphors not just with his characters, but also with a drowned town emerging from the waters of Lake mead, a ghost town that hosts the Carnival of Losr Souls, and the city of Las Vegas, which celebrates the dark, the hidden and the grotesque.”—Kirkus  (starred review)

“[A] psychological, literary thrill ride with a little noir sprinkled in to keep readers from going over the edge. Abani reveals the dark sides of all his characters while at the same time painting them in a sympathetic light, resulting in a beautifully written examination of the human condition—and the depths we will go to justify our actions.”—The Gazette
Praise for Chris Abani:

"Chris Abani might be the most courageous writer working right now. There is no subject matter he finds daunting, no challenge he fears. Aside from that, he's stunningly prolific and writes like an angel. If you want to get at the molten heart of contemporary fiction, Abani is the starting point."—Dave Eggers, author of The Circle

“Abani is a force to be reckoned with, a world-class novelist and poet.”—Russell Banks, author of Lost Memory of Skin

“Abani has the energy, ambition and compassion to create a novel that delineates and illuminates a complicated, dynamic, deeply fractured society.”—Los Angeles Times

“Ambitious…[GranceLand is] a kind of small miracle.”—John Freeman, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“[The Secret History of Las Vegas] is An intricate braid of story strands, enriched by vivid descriptions, intriguingly dysfunctional characters, and abundant metaphors. Expect the unexpected.”—Booklist

“[I]n this grim but beautifully written tale…Abani creates vivid metaphors not just with his characters, but also with a drowned town emerging from the waters of Lake mead, a ghost town that hosts the Carnival of Losr Souls, and the city of Las Vegas, which celebrates the dark, the hidden and the grotesque.”—Kirkus  (starred review)


Product Description

A gritty, riveting, and wholly original murder mystery from PEN/Hemingway Award-winning author Chris Abani

Before he can retire, Las Vegas detective Salazar is determined to solve a recent spate of murders. When he encounters a pair of conjoined twins with a container of blood near their car, he’s sure he has apprehended the killers, and enlists the help of Dr. Sunil Singh, a South African transplant who specializes in the study of psychopaths. As Sunil tries to crack the twins, the implications of his research grow darker. Haunted by his betrayal of loved ones back home during apartheid, he seeks solace in the love of Asia, a prostitute with hopes of escaping that life. But Sunil’s own troubled past is fast on his heels in the form of a would-be assassin.

Suspenseful through the last page, The Secret History of Las Vegas is Chris Abani’s most accomplished work to date, with his trademark visionary prose and a striking compassion for the inner lives of outsiders.

Product Details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1500 KB
  • Print Length: 337 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0143124951
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (Jan. 7 2014)
  • Sold by: Penguin Group USA
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #132,001 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Something very different.. March 29 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I always give myself four chapters to get into a book. If after four I still can'y get into it - I'm done!
So glad I did with this one!
Exceptional story line. Interesting characters! Some great twists and turns...Really awesome surprising ending!!!
(with out giving anything away!!! ;-)
Was this review helpful to you?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.8 out of 5 stars  42 reviews
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Myth and truth Jan. 7 2014
By TChris - Published on
Las Vegas is a city of fantasy, making it a fitting setting for a novel that uses elements of myth and fantasy to illuminate truth and reality. With casinos that replicate Paris and Venice and ancient Egypt, Las Vegas (Chris Abani theorizes) is searching for a myth that will validate its existence, a link to a place with deeper and more substantial roots. Abani posits that Las Vegas has given birth to "submerged and subterranean cultures" filled with "the fevered men who so desperately wanted those myths to be true." It is also a city that attracts lost souls. Myths and lost souls provide the background for The Secret History of Las Vegas, an original and perceptive blend of humor and drama, fantasy and reality.

In one of the most interesting openings to a novel I've recently encountered, fused twin sons are born in the Nevada desert, two miles from an exploding nuclear bomb. Their mother names them Fire and Water. Years later, Water is a handsome adult, physically normal except for the head and partial body of Fire that sprouts from his side.

Meeting Fire and Water unnerves Detective Salazar. He wants to detain them as suspects in a series of unsolved killings but, lacking good cause, decides to hold them for observation by a mental health expert. He calls upon the novel's central character, Sunil Singh, a researcher at a private Las Vegas institute who is studying psychopathic behavior. Half Zulu, half Indian, and displaced from South Africa, Sunil thinks of Las Vegas as home. It is, at least, fertile ground for his study of psychopaths.

Beyond its beginning, I won't describe the plot, lest its craziness put you off (and also to avoid spoiling the pleasure of the surprises it holds). Suffice it to say that it involves past and present loves stories and a hit man who has a grudge against Sunil. At times it seems like a parody of a thriller. At other times it becomes a serious novel about race and injustice. The characters are just as unpredictable as the plot. No matter how familiar they are (the hooker with the heart of gold, the police detective on the verge of retirement who is frustrated by an unsolved crime), Abani twists them into less recognizable (but strangely believable) shapes. Fire and Water are hilarious, at least if you appreciate humor that is offbeat, slightly absurdist, and somewhat dark. Water responds to questions with not-quite-relevant trivia while Fire responds with sarcasm.

Yet for all the humor, The Secret History of Las Vegas is a serious commentary on the impact of apartheid on its victims. While races around the world are slowly blending together into a "sepia of tolerance," Sunil's life in South Africa was shaped by the racial classifications marked on South African identity documents carried by nonwhites, "the backbone of apartheid." The dangers and indignities of Soweto, the evils that he saw and that he perpetrated, are never far removed from Sunil's memories. At the same time, he has grown weary of people who wear trauma like a badge, vying for the distinction of belonging to the group that suffered the most, as if "tallying an impossible math" will arrive at a meaningful result.

In addition to the myths of Las Vegas, Sunil recalls the myths of South Africa, particularly the Sorrow Tree, which "could bear everyone's pain for a short while." All the novel's characters are bearing pain but they manage to find respites from pain, often by coming together, as people do when they gather at the Sorrow Tree. Sunil is searching for his own myth, the fictional story that will explain the truth of his life. Abani furthers that theme by incorporating a fairy tale from Sunil's childhood that is a thinly veiled version of a true story. Myth, illusion, fantasy, and varying versions of reality all stir together in Abani's fresh, eccentric, funny, moving, and thoroughly entertaining novel.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars This Novel Attempts to Do Too Much Feb. 6 2014
By C. E. Selby - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I found myself almost having to jot down the various threads of this novel as they unraveled, quite possibly because the history of apartheid South Africa is not one I know well. So the pieces that take place there with the protagonist who is a psychiatrist now living in Las Vegas were new. And it didn't help that the bouncing back and forth--the current story intermixed with the back story--made for a certain incoherence. (It's not fun having to go back to re-read something, and I attempted that for a bit then gave up). The story in and around Las Vegas involves what has occurred as a result of nuclear bomb fall-out with a rather interesting cast of characters including the conjoined twins, Water and Fire, who may or may not be involved in a murder. They are part of a road show that is fun to read about although, again, because it gets mixed in with South Africa, can be difficult to follow. The central character is involved with a prostitute, and he is also being hunted down by a fellow South African.
Then there is this: this book needed an editor. You will discover that there are glaring factual errors such as this: saying Herbert Hoover was the 39th President. (That was Jimmy Carter! Hoover was 31st.) And there are annoying repetitions of phrases that weren't caught by the copy editor (if there was one) as well as a lack of capitalization, i.e., jesus, not Jesus! las vegas instead of Las Vegas! (Maybe the author had some stylistic something-or-other in mind. But for me that didn't work.
It was not a book that I found eager to return to. In fact I am rather glad to be done with it because, in the end, it just wasn't worth the time. It's just mediocre in my opinion.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The title is misleading Feb. 9 2014
By David W. Randall - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Thought I was getting something else so probably my fault. Written without quotation marks which made it hard to follow which in turn make it even harder to read. Jumped all over the place and with Kindle it's hard to go back and pick up.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A splendid blend of thriller and literary fiction Jan. 11 2014
By G. Johnson - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If I were to attempt to describe this book briefly, the characters would sound absurd (conjoined twins suspected of being serial killers, a Sikh South African psychiatrist who works for a top-secret U.S. Army research institute) and the plots cliché (retiring cop wants to solve a case that haunts him, psychiatrist can't decide between two women and has unresolved mother issues). But Abani is such a brilliant and beautiful writer that these characters and plots come together in a unique and utterly enjoyable blend of literary fiction and crime thriller. I wanted to savor the writing, but I also wanted to stay up all night to find out how everything was resolved as soon as possible. I highly recommend this book to anyone who can stand a bit of sex and some graphic violence (which is anything but gratuitous, as it is often describing horrors in South Africa in the psychiatrist's past).
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Uncanny Mystery within a Gilded View of History Feb. 5 2014
By Viviane Crystal - Published on
Fire and Water, two conjoined twins, lose their mother at a very young age. Having absorbed the radiation from the nuclear experiments conducted in Nevada, she is dying of cancer and chooses her own exit. One of the twins speaks normally in response to conversation with others but the other refuses to look at others and repeats factual statements about random subjects, sometimes at a normal pace, sometimes rapidly in a way that seems to the reader to be associated with extreme stress being experienced from other person’s questions or comments. Fire and Water are now being, in a sense, abused by two doctors who think they would make excellent subjects for drug experimentation. Subtlety and very real, direct statements evoke anger and poignant feelings in the reader as this part of the surrealistic plot unfolds!
Salazar, a detective, and Sunil, a research physician, unite with a common goal. Someone has been dumping bodies in the outskirts of Las Vegas. Salazar is determined to prove it is the twins who are guilty of murder, but Sunil gradually comes to some very powerful realizations about everyone involved in this criminal investigation, including Salazar and Sunil’s boss. What makes this a fascinating journey is that for Sunil, in some unexplainable way, it brings back horrific memories of his family and the hell of apartheid practices in Africa – whether that be in Soweto, Johannesburg, or a little known place notorious for its death camps!
Mixed in between the investigation and memories are exquisite stories, folk tales, scenic descriptions and more delights that turn this into a very literary story about how memories and histories shape us. Even the ghost towns left behind after the nuclear explosions are explored with grace and grit!
When we refuse to face both the lovely and the horrific, we become like the character Eskia, who is hunting Sunil with a psychopathic purpose. When we face them, as we see in this novel, there is truly a chance for forgiveness and change, redemption, salvation, call it what you will!
Years ago, this reviewer remembers Bishop Desmond Tutu beginning a campaign to get the perpetrators of severe violence meet with their victims and what a healing process that turned out for the majority of those who responded or at least tried to respond. This novel by Chris Abani reminded me of that period of African history but unlike that process, the reader here is invited to join the journey, perhaps vicariously if that is possible, and is left with questions and ponderings that bring some understanding and some soul-searching about the past and present, our history!
Chris Abani is a literate, sensitive author who brooks no fools with platitudes or mundane commentary. Even tough-minded Salazar in a unique fashion cannot help but be changed because of this exploration of a secret history in Las Vegas and that of Water, Fire, Sunil, Asia (a loving prostitute, and Sheila. All are richer for their large or small part in the challenges wrought by their interaction. Superb historical and contemporary fiction! Highly recommended!
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