Cover image for Becoming Abigail : a novella
Becoming Abigail : a novella
Publication Information:
New York : Akashic ; London : Turnaround [distributor], c2006.
Physical Description:
119 p. ; 21 cm.


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"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.

Author Notes

Chris Abani, curator of Akashic's Black Goat poetry imprint, is a Nigerian poet and novelist and the author of Song for Night, The Virgin of Flames, Becoming Abigail, and GraceLand (a selection of the Today Show Book Club; winner of the 2005 PEN/Hemingway Prize and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award).

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Booklist Review

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 0 into taut moments that reveal secrets of cruelty--and of love--up to the last page. A prize-winning writer for Graceland0 (2003), Abani tells a strong young woman's story with graphic empathy. --Hazel Rochman Copyright 2006 Booklist

Library Journal Review

In this novella, Abani (Graceland) offers a lyrical yet devastating account of a young woman's relocation to London from Nigeria under terrifically harsh circumstances. Shifting from the present to the not-so-distant past, the narrative explains how Abigail's life has been marked by tragedy ever since her mother died during childbirth. The absence of a mother eventually leads Abigail to a pattern of disturbing behavior, not the least of which includes self-mutilation with a knife. Her exasperated father decides to send her to London to live with her cousin Mary and Mary's husband, Peter. Unknown to Abigail's father, Peter had once molested Abigail, an act that proves minor compared with the other horrors she will encounter in this strange new country with so many white people. Abani's abundant talent is clearly evident throughout, as is his willingness to be brutally honest without being grotesque. Perhaps because of the book's brevity, Abani also refrains from polemics and focuses solely on the artistic presentation of a young, tragic life, leaving interpretation to the reader. Recommended for most general fiction collections.-Kevin Greczek, Ewing, NJ (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.