Monday, January 11, 2016

Becoming Abigail by Christ Abani

Paperback, 120 pages Published March 1st 2006 by Akashic Books

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 birthing her and ever since, her father looked at the child to fill the gap made by her mother’s death. Abigail’s inadequacies were agonizing to her.

The story opens in London, where the fourteen-year-old Abigail was brought by a "cousin" after the death of her father. Abigail feels responsible for all the pain in her world. The cousin dresses her in thick makeup and skirts too short. Abigail looks much older than fourteen. Her confusion about safety, trust, love makes her vulnerable, and at the same time, invulnerable.

Abani enters a woman-child’s places of pain and sees, and speaks of it. It is a searing experience. One would think that, having viewed the worst in humankind, the author would have no kindness within him, but the opposite appears to be true. He embodies a generosity of spirit that refreshes.

This short novella can be read in a sitting. Abani's clarity and willingness to examine truth is what makes his writing exceptional and essential. This novella is informative for what it tells us of experience, and how that forms or deforms us.

Other work by Abani:
Hands Washing Water (2006)
Virgin of Flames (2007)
Song for Night (2007)
There Are No Names for Red (2010)
Sanctificum (2010)
The Secret History of Las Vegas (2014)
The Face: Cartography of the Void (2014)

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

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