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GraceLand

The story of a teenager named Elvis trying to make a life for himself outside the slum of Makoko in Lagos, Nigeria, GraceLand is a captivating (albeit choppy) story. Chris Abani is a Nigerian writer who was arrested in 1985 at the age of 18, "in connection with a politically dangerous novel" (x) that he wrote at 16. "The Nigerian government suggested that the plot of his first novel...had laid the blueprint for a political coup. He was held for six months, during which time he was beaten daily. In 1987 he was arrested again. This time he was sent to Kiri-Kiri, a maximum security prison in Lagos, where he was held for a year. During his incarceration he was tortured." (x) Torture comes up towards the end of GraceLand, forming some of the more vivid scenes of the novel. The account of torture is described so it fills all your senses, and it remains with you even after you finish the novel. Yet, as the NYT Book Review points out, "there's not enough room left afterward for the shock waves to dissipate -- it's hard to believe in Elvis's recovery, or the subsequent events." Elvis's story was interesting enough, but it was interspersed with excerpts from his mother's journal - of random recipes of Nigerian foods and tidbits of history about the Nigerian people which made the novel seem quite disjointed. Every other chapter was a flashback to Elvis's youth, which did get tiresome at times. Overall, the story of Elvis in Nigeria in 1983 was an interesting one - but it dragged out parts of the story that were uneventful and rushed the important parts. "This book works brilliantly in two ways. As a convincing and unpatronizing record of life in a poor Nigerian slum, and as a frighteningly honest insight into a world skewed by casual violence, it's wonderful. What it isn't, quite, is a successful novel." (x) I liked reading it, but I wouldn't put it on the top of my list of recommendations. However, it did open my eyes to the life of those in Lagos, one of the biggest slums in the world. It lead me to some interesting research on the subject. To me, that is a hallmark of a successful read, if it inspires my curiosity or makes me think about something I haven't spent time on before. I couldn't decide if this book was a 4★ or 3★, so Rating:★★★(★)

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