©2004 Chris Abani; (P)2005 Recorded Books, LLC
"The novel offers a vibrant picture of an alien yet somehow parallel culture...the mix of surrealistic horror and cross-cultural humor is irresistible. Abani is a first novelist with a very bright future". (Booklist)
Sometimes having the author read his or her own words can really add to the experience of listening to an audio book. And sometimes it doesn't. This was one of the occasions where the quality of the experience would have been greatly enhanced if someone - anyone - other than the author had been doing the reading. As patient as I tried to be with Mr. Abani, more often than not I found myself wanting to poke him hard - very, very, hard - in an attempt to get him to increase the speed of his reading; if nothing else, if he'd read faster this torturous experience (yes, I listened all the way to the end in the deluded hope that it might get better) would have ended sooner.
This is seemingly a wonderful book, but a difficult "listen". Chris Abani has a very deliberate reading style, most likely given that English is his second language. This slow style impacted my ability to stay "with it" without my mind wandering---- certainly my problem, but all listeners should be alert to similar possibilities. I may buy this one in hard copy.
I would highly recommend Graceland to anyone that wants to get an understanding of the political and social troubles in Nigeria in the 70's and 80's, presented dramatically in a way that will keep you riveted till the end. Even if you have no interest in Africa in particular this is a great story of human struggle. I had trouble listening to parts of the story because of the violence portrayed, and even found myself in tears at a point. So, if you are sensitive like me I wouldn't suggesting listening before you go to sleep. The authors writing style and narrating voice are a perfect fit for the story and really "take you" to Africa. He even mixes in a little "broken" (the nigerian version of English) to make it sound authentic. His reading is at a good pace, it is slow enough to allow me to build the story in my mind, and fast enough to keep my attention. The sample given doesn't show his style throughout the book, it's a piece where he is reading a speakers part through a megaphone, the whole book is not read that slowly.
While I had a hard time getting into this book at first, I'm glad I stuck with it. Authors usually do a good job of reading their own books, and this is an excellent reading. "Graceland" provides an insiders look at the ghettos of Nigeria, and it's really cool to get a view of what people think of America and its popular culture (the books is set in the 70's and 80's) who have never actually been to the US before. This book will most likely give you an appreciation of a place you've never been.
elvis loves dancing to the music of elvis presley. he is bisexual and enjoys wearing makeup. these traits have nothing to do with the story of "graceland," and elvis's character is not developed in any way.
this is because elvis is only a vehicle for chris albani to list the atrocities that take place in nigeria. children and nuns are raped. elvis witnesses someone being burned alive. twice. kids are kidnapped and sold for organ harvesting. political prisoners are brutally tortured. a child is electrocuted, and no one cares. i could go on. when albani can't fit a horror into the story, he just has people talk about it.
elvis's character is never developed. things just happen to him. his friend redemption tricks elvis into becoming a criminal. his father abuses him, and his aunt entices him. none of elvis's choices affect any of his life's outcomes. it seems that if elvis made the opposite choices, nothing would have turned out any differently. was that the point of the book? i'm not sure.
the author seems to make a theme of redemption at the end of the book. but who is being redeemed? elvis? certainly not. he is a consciencious kid who never hurts anyone. is elvis redeeming nigeria? maybe, but it's hard to imagine that his simple kindnesses are enough. the author also makes a feeble attempt to blame white people for the horrible things black nigerians are doing to each other, but that nonsense doesn't hold up too well these days.
on the positive side, i did like albani's narration. he speaks with a soft sadness and does a wonderful job with the voices. one could almost believe that albani's narration is the redemption of his lousy book.
The author may have made a mistake in reading his own book. Maybe it's a cultural thing and I'm used to a different narration style because I'm not from Nigeria but I felt like he just droned on and on. Also, this is barely about an Elvis impersonator and more about a boy who would like to be an Elvis impersonator but has a bunch of truly terrible things happen to him. If it had been sold as such I would have been fine with it but it started out with such promise (and I eventually got used to the droning) and then became dark and depressing and never came back from it. There were scenes in this book which should have been pivotal moments which just felt like yet another tragedy to heap on the pile of pain and sorrow. I can handle stories like that if I am told ahead of time that it's going to be like that, but to sell this book as something which may be a bit light or have true moments of levity is not fair and made me dislike it because I felt tricked.
couldn't get into it, may try later
This story plods along with no discernable plot. The author's reading is slowly paced making it difficult to listen for long periods of time. I found my mind wandering A LOT listening to this -- perhaps this would be better in hard copy.
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