“This is the kola nut. This seed is a star. This star is life. This star is us. The lgbo hold the kola nut to be sacred, offering it at every gathering and to every visitor, as a blessing, as refreshment, or to seal a covenant. The prayer that precedes the breaking and sharing of the nut is: He who brings kola, brings life.“
In present-day Lagos, Elvis is suspended between the haunting memory of his dead mother, his father’s beatings, and the irresistible temptation of a life of crime alongside his friends; Redemption, Innocent, Sunday and Comfort, in a Nigerian version of Hades, an obscure and dangerous underworld.
Oscillating between his past and his present dreams fed by American cinema and music, the novel follows Elvis’s coming-of-age in a place where few things are as they seem.
Abani’s mixture of contemporary Nigerian slang, sharp descriptions and enchanting echoes of the illo tempore Igbo kola ritual creates a maze of sensations, making vivid Elvis’s haunting memories and daydreams about the Promised Land of America.
And yet, in spite of this obscure world where people struggle constantly to make a living, Abani’s writing displays an attachment to human values which are bound to prevail in the end. Courage, tolerance, love are the only weapons in Elvis’ world, the only escape, the only way to follow his dream.
Graceland is a literary masterpiece in which the power of words and creation win over the dark side of human nature; although Elvis has to cross through the black river of the world’s atrocities to become a man, Abani’s ultimate message is one of hope and tolerance- what else, since Abani calls himself “a zealot of optimism”?
Review by Ioana Danaila
Ioana Danaila was born in Romania. She graduated from University Lyon 2 Lumière with a Masters in Postcolonial Literature and a First degree in French for Non-Francophone people. She has published short stories and translated books from French to Romanian. She speaks Romanian, French, English, and Spanish and teaches English to high school students in France.