25 Books to Read Before You Die

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LA Weekly


Becoming Abigail: A Novel by Christopher Abani

Poor, Solitary, Nasty, Brutish and Short

A review by Nathan Ihara

Chris Abani's Becoming Abigail, the follow-up to his PEN/Hemingway award-winning Graceland, is rich with suffering. In 34 brief and lyrical chapters, Abani sketches the life of Abigail Tansi, a 14-year-old Igbo girl. It is abjectly Hobbesian: solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. The novella begins with a flashback to the funeral of Abigail's mother (also named Abigail), the air filled with the sound of women weeping: "A deep lowing, a presence, dark and palpable, like a shadow...a thing that circled the grave and the mourners in a predatory manner." This is an apt description of the novella itself -- if Becoming Abigail were a noise, it would be a wail.

Abigail's life is a chain of tragedies. She spends her childhood in elaborate and crazed rituals of grief for her dead mother: muttering incantations over her photographs, cutting and burning herself. She loses her virginity to one cousin, and is sexually abused by another cousin, Peter. Eventually, her father sends her off to...

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Dora Lives: The Authorized Story of Miki Dora by C.R. Stecyk and Drew Kampion

If you took James Dean's cool, Muhammad Ali's poetics, Harry Houdini's slipperiness, James Bond's jet-setting, George Carlin's irony and Kwai Chang Caine's Zen, and rolled them into one man with a longboard under his arm, you'd come up with something like Miki Dora, surfing's mythical...

Black Swan Green: A Novel by David Mitchell

Fans of David Mitchell's challenging and complex fiction will be surprised, perhaps, by the comparatively small scale and straightforward narrative of his new novel, Black Swan Green, which follows on the heels of his wildly acclaimed Cloud Atlas. That novel, shortlisted for the Booker...

The Last Friend: A Novel by Tahar Ben Jelloun

"The novel of French expression is where one finds the most audacity in contesting the social order," Moroccan writer Tahar Ben Jelloun once said, referring to the curious practice of writing Arabic literature in the colonial tongue. "This use of the Other's language is considered ...

The Force of Reason by Oriana Fallaci

In The Force of Reason, the controversial Italian journalist and novelist Oriana Fallaci illuminates one of the central enigmas of our time. How did Europe become home to an estimated 20 million Muslims in a mere three decades? How did Islam go from being a virtual non-factor to a religion...

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