Graceland: A Novel by Chris Abani


I had the hardest time beginning to read this book. I’m not sure it was anything wrong with the book, but for some reason every time I started it I couldn’t follow through. I finally willed myself to get this book read and I’m glad I did. I liked the book, I feel like the description of the book doesn’t do it justice though. I can’t really say that it doesn’t fit or is wrong, because it’s not— it’s just so much more. First here’s what it says: “The sprawling, swampy, cacophonous city of Lagos, Nigeria, provides the backdrop to the story of Elvis, a teenage Elvis impersonator hoping to make his way out of the ghetto. Nuances, lyrical, and pitch perfect, this is a remarkable story of a son and his father, and a examination of postcolonial Nigeria, where the trappings of American culture reign supreme.” But this book touches on everything, I feel like Elvis’ dancing and “the trappings of American culture” did not make as much of an impact in this story as the coming of age journey set behind the mess of the life in the ghetto. Military clashing and a number of fringe jobs they show for survival make this story come alive. The discussions about the military governments and what if anything can be done really made the book feel real. My only issue was I feel there was excessive and needless sexual references—- not that I’m a prude, and to be fair everything felt so real. Confessions this boy is thinking and feeling feel remarkably honest, and I do love that though. So that’s not much of a gripe since I both liked and disliked it. 

I wished I had jotted down notes or had read this on my Kindle where I could highlight. There was some amazing quotes in this book. Having just finished the book tonight I can at least mark one I read today: 

“Funds? What funds? Let me tell you, dere are no bigger tiefs dan dose World Bank people. Let me tell you how de World Bank helps us. Say dey offer us ten-million-loa for creating potable and clean water supply to rural areas. If we accept, dis is how dey do us. First dey tell us dat we have to use de expertise of their consultants, so dey remove two million for salaries and expenses. Den dey tell us dat de consultants need equipment to work, like computer, jeeps or bulldozers, and for hotel and so on, so dey take another two million. Den dey say we cannot build ne boreholes but must service existing one, so dey take another two million to buy parts. All dis money, six million of it, never leave de U.S. Den dey use two million for de project, but it is not enough, so dey abandon it, and den amy bosses take de remaining two million. Now we, you and I and all dese poor people, owe de World Bank ten million dollars for nothing. Dey are all tiefs and I despise dem— our people and de World Bank people!”

Just a good example of how this book is so much more, it brings about many ideas, problems, and realities.

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