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GRACELAND (article first published : 2006-03-24)

Writer Chris Abani is currently in South Africa as a key author at the Time of the Writerís Festival in Durban.

Born in Nigeria, Chris Abani published his first novel at the age of sixteen for which he suffered severe political persecution.

He went into exile in 1991 and has since lived in England and the United States. He has written award-wining poetry in addition to his works of fiction and is also an accomplished saxophonist.

Together with Walter Mosely, he is strongly affiliated with PEN, an international organisation that campaigns for freedom of expression, extends literacy and promotes universal literature. He is currently an Associate Professor at the University of California, Riverside and also teaches in the MFA Program at Antioch University, Los Angeles.

His latest book, Graceland is set in the swampy but crazy and colourful city of Lagos. This dazzling novel tells the story of Elvis Oke, an Elvis impersonator who vigorously pursues his dream of escaping from the ghetto in which he lives. With the help of a cheap radio, he spends hours practising his performance for American tourists. But still he finds himself constantly broke. Beset by floods and beatings from his alcoholic father, and with no job opportunities in sight, Elvis is tempted to a life of crime in Lagosís underworld. Torn by the frustration of unrealisable dreams, and surrounded by a chorus of unsynchronised voices, Elvis must forge a way to a Graceland of his own.

The novel describes a multifaceted society that, while saturated with American film and pop culture, is entirely different from America. It is a society that is soaked through with the violence imposed by gender stereotyping and social protocol, neither of which has a clear origin or future. The book offers an unsettling but unpatronising view of a people without bearings and of the ongoing struggle of the cultural intermediate.




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