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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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