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Becoming Abigail


A breathtaking novella from the award-winning author of Song for Night and GraceLand.

$15.95 $11.96

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What people are saying…

Awards and Critical Praise for Becoming Abigail
—A 2007 PEN/Beyond Margins Award Finalist
—A New York Times Editors’ Choice
—A Chicago Reader Critic’s Choice
—A selection of the Essence Magazine Book Club
—A selection of the Black Expressions Book Club

“Moody, lyrical prose reminiscent of Toni Morrison’s Beloved . . . Though the fictional Abigail exists only on the pages of Abani’s novella, her character will seize the imagination of everyone who reads her story.”
Essence Magazine

“Abani is a fiction writer of mature and bounteous gifts . . . Becoming Abigail is more compressed and interior [than GraceLand], a poetic treatment of terror and loneliness . . . its sharp focus on the devastation of one young woman, has a deeper kind of resonance . . . Abani, himself incarcerated and tortured for his writings and activism in Nigeria in the mid-’80s, writes about the body’s capacity for both ecstasy and pain with an honesty and precision rarely encountered in recent fiction . . . This is a powerful, harrowing work, made more so because, while much of the narrative seems to be a vortex of affliction, Abigail’s destiny is not inevitable. The small canvas suits Chris Abani.”
—Sam Lipsyte, New York Times Book Review

Becoming Abigail, a spare yet voluptuous tale about a young Nigerian girl’s escape from prostitution is so hypnotic that it begs to be read in one sitting . . . Abigail is sensitive, courageous, and teetering on the brink of madness. Effortlessly gliding between past and present, Chris Abani spins a timeless story of misfortune and triumph.”
Entertainment Weekly

“A darkly poetic investigation into the past’s deceptive hold over the present . . . Abani writes in dense, gorgeous prose. Abigail is not a creature of pity but inspiration.”
The Nation

“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 García, author of Dreaming in Cuban

“Abani finds his place in a long line of literary refugees, from the Mexican revolutionary Ricardo Flores Magon to Bertolt Brecht and Theodor Adorno . . . Becoming Abigail is, not surprisingly, about memory, loss, and all the cruel disjunctions of exile. Not for a moment, though, does Abani allow himself that most tempting stupefacient of exile, nostalgia. Abani’s prose is diaphanous and poetic. His lyricism is elliptical, almost evasive . . . Becoming Abigail is a hard, unsparing book, cruel in its beauty, shocking in its compassion.”
Los Angeles Times Book Review

“A lyrical yet devastating account of a young woman’s relocation to London from Nigeria . . . Abani’s abundant talent is clearly evident throughout, as is his willingness to be brutally honest without being grotesque. He also refrains from polemics and focuses solely on the artistic presentation of a young, tragic life, leaving interpretation to the reader.”
Library Journal

“A searing girl’s coming-of-age novella in which a troubled Nigerian teen is threatened with becoming human trade . . . 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 and deft moves between short chapters.”
Publishers Weekly

“Spare, haunting vignettes of exquisite delicacy . . . Never sensationalized, the continual revelations are more shocking for being quietly told, compressed into taut moments that reveal secrets of cruelty—and of love—up to the last page. Abani tells a strong young woman’s story with graphic empathy.”

“Abani’s writing never becomes didactic—Becoming Abigail has the elegance and lyricism of a prose poem but doesn’t soft-pedal the abuse it chronicles.”
Chicago Reader

“Abani writes in a fearless prose . . . He is able to toe that line between restraint and abundance, unfolding Abigail’s history like the raising of a bandage.”
Time Out Chicago

“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 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.

Book Details

  • Paperback: 120 pages
  • Published: 3/1/06
  • IBSN: 9781888451948
  • e-IBSN: 9781936070206


Chris Abani, a Nigerian-born, award-winning poet and novelist, currently teaches at Northwestern University in Chicago. He is the recipient of a PEN USA Freedom-to-Write Award, a Prince Claus Award, a Lannan Literary Fellowship, a California Book Award, a Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, a PEN Beyond Margins Award, a PEN/Hemingway Award, and a Guggenheim Award. He is the editor of Lagos Noir and the coeditor of Kumi: New-Generation African Poets, A Chapbook Box Set.

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