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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Becoming Abigail

Chris Abani

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To purchase Becoming Abigail

Title: Becoming Abigail
Author: Chris Abani
Genre: Novella
Written: 2006
Length: 121 pages
Availability: Becoming Abigail - US
Becoming Abigail - UK
Becoming Abigail - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B+ : well-written, but very ugly tale

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Entertainment Weekly A- 31/3/2006 Karen Karbo
The NY Times Book Rev. . 19/3/2006 Sam Lipsyte

  From the Reviews:
  • "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." - Karen Karbo, Entertainment Weekly

  • "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." - Sam Lipsyte, The New York Times Book Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Becoming Abigail is a spare, lyrical novella focussed around a Nigerian girl, alternating short sections focussing on her past and present. Her name is Abigail, but the dominant Abigail is her mother, who died giving birth to her. The void left by her death overwhelms Abigail's father, and from an early age the girl is obviously marked by this absent presence as well; indeed, she's described as "insatiable for her mother"
       Among Abigail's ways of dealing with her mother's absence are a variety of rituals and actions, extending, ultimately, to painful self-mutilation. Dad can barely take care of himself, much less his daughter, but eventually he wants to shove her off on Peter, who "was apparently a successful businessman in London". Her father chooses to think well of Peter:

     "He always takes one young relative back to London as well," he used to explain. "Imagine how lucky those children are !"
       Of course, Peter also explains that: "All the other kids he had taken back had fallen in with bad crowds and run away", but Abigail's dad doesn't worry about that too much. Abigail should have a better idea -- an encounter a few years earlier with Peter on his wedding day, when she was twelve, pretty much said it all -- but she doesn't fight the opportunity too hard. In any case, soon enough Abigail doesn't have much of a choice, and she's in London with Peter.
       Peter is, of course, a terrible, terrible person. Terrible. Abigail does escape from his clutches (and does exact an appropriate revenge, though she doesn't turn him in to the authorities) and does find someone willing and able to help her, social worker Derek. But even this doesn't go well, as their relationship becomes too close, leading to Derek's arrest and Abigail's final plunge into the abyss.
       Becoming Abigail is not a pretty tale. Abigail's fate is frustrating because of the missteps that make it. That her father is psychologically too damaged to help her, or that the psychiatrist he sends her to is "only interested in the truly mad" and just prescribes a children's aspirin one can understand, but her father sending her off with Peter (not to mention his farewell-gesture) are terrible errors in judgment -- as is the fact that her social worker is willing to do her on the kitchen table so his wife can catch them in the act ..... Nevertheless -- or perhaps because there is this sense that her fate isn't inevitable, that this can still be righted (she escapes Peter pretty quickly, for example) -- it rarely feels like a despairing or hopeless book. (Nevertheless: everybody winds up dead or in jail or missing vital parts of their anatomy.)
       Abani comes up with some nice stuff in presenting this harrowing tale, but the depressing and ugly occurrences are fairly overwhelming. There are lives that turn out as badly as Abigail's, but it's hard to take any sort of lesson from her particular story.
       Becoming Abigail has a great closing line, but it's a frustrating end to a fairly frustrating novella.

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Becoming Abigail: Reviews: Chris Abani: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of books from and about Africa

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About the Author:

       Nigerian author Chris Abani currently lives in California.

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© 2006-2021 the complete review

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