The Virgin of Flames

The Virgin of Flames

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by Chris Abani
     
 

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From the author of the award-winning GraceLand comes a searing, dazzlingly written novel of a tarnished City of Angels

Praised as “singular” (The Philadelphia Inquirer) and “extraordinary” (The New York Times Book Review), GraceLand stunned critics and instantly established Chris Abani as an exciting

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Overview

From the author of the award-winning GraceLand comes a searing, dazzlingly written novel of a tarnished City of Angels

Praised as “singular” (The Philadelphia Inquirer) and “extraordinary” (The New York Times Book Review), GraceLand stunned critics and instantly established Chris Abani as an exciting new voice in fiction. In his second novel, set against the uncompromising landscape of East L.A., Abani follows a struggling artist named Black, whose life and friendships reveal a world far removed from the mainstream. Through Black’s journey of self- discovery, Abani raises essential questions about poverty, religion, and ethnicity in America today. The Virgin of Flames, a marvelous and gritty novel filled with indelible images and unforgettable characters, confirms Chris Abani as an immensely talented writer.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Abani [is] a fluid, closely observant writer. (The Washington Post)

Abani’s intensely visual style—and his sense of humor—convert the stuff of hopelessness into the stuff of hope. (San Francisco Chronicle)

GraceLand amply demonstrates that Abani has the energy, ambition and compassion to create a novel that delineates and illuminates a complicated, dynamic, deeply fractured society. (Los Angeles Times)

Abani . . . has written an exhilarating novel, all the more astonishing for its hard-won grace and, yes, redemption. (The Village Voice)

In depicting how deeply external politics can affect internal thinking, GraceLand announces itself as a worthy heir to Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. Like that classic of Nigerian literature, it gives a multifaceted, human face to a culture struggling to find its own identity while living with somebody else’s. (Minneapolis Star-Tribune)

The New Yorker
The third novel by the Nigerian-born Abani centers on Black, an artist in East Los Angeles who inadvertently turns the building where he lives above a tattoo parlor into a shrine by appearing at the door of a spaceship he has built on the roof dressed as the Virgin of Guadalupe. Black is presented in a noirish framework—one of his friends, a dwarf, quotes copiously from “Farewell, My Lovely”—but Abani’s delight in whimsical reversals creates an antic atmosphere that recalls Pirandello more than Chandler. When a transvestite lap dancer whose pictures Black collects discovers he’s besotted with her, she—unused to love—calls him, while Black’s Lexus-driving friend, a Rwandan refugee, has found happiness in California working as a butcher.
Publishers Weekly
An L.A. artist's search for identity forms the core of the diffuse but haunting new novel by Nigerian-born poet and Graceland novelist Abani. Black is a 36-year-old muralist living hand to mouth behind the Ugly Store cafe in a bleak area of L.A. He's depressed and in an existential rut: engrossed in his latest work drawing on Catholic iconography (beaten into him as a child by his Salvadoran mother), and still smarting from the disappearance when he was a child of his African father (a NASA engineer) on a Vietnam-era space-related mission, Black feels he's being followed by ghosts-namely, the biblical Gabriel, the angel of annunciation. Sometimes he converses with Gabriel in the spaceship he has constructed in honor of his father above the cafe. Black is also deeply conflicted about his sexuality; a frequenter of female prostitutes, he has recently become obsessed with a local transvestite stripper, Sweet Girl. But Black's malaise may also stem from a curse-involving a malevolent spirit that kills male children-that his father wrote him about. It's a muddle, and it's difficult to care about the plot details. But Abani touches on the far reaches of psychic pain, religious and sexual, and creates a hallucinatory despair. (Jan.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Abani's latest (Graceland, 2004, etc.) follows a California muralist's search for himself. Black lives on the skids in South Central L.A. He paints in a "spaceship" he's constructed on the roof of The Ugly Store, a forlorn artists' space directed by a Jewish psychic with metal rings in her back. His work-in-progress is a portrait of himself as the Virgin of Guadalupe in a wedding dress. Black drives a dilapidated Volkswagen bus and smokes a lot of dope. He admits to his successful friend Bomboy, a Rwandan businessman, that he lacks the requisite ambition to get anywhere. In his mid-30s, he's still troubled by ghosts from his past. His Nigerian-born father, a postdoctoral engineering student at Caltech working for NASA, was drafted and killed in Vietnam when Black was very young. His pious Salvadoran mother forced him to pray to the Virgin for his sins; later, dying of cancer, she was convinced she was being punished for getting pregnant out of wedlock. Shortly before her death, Black found a letter from his father explaining that because an evil spirit threatened to kill all male offspring of his Igbo family by age six, Black had been dressed as a girl until he turned seven. This might explain his conflicted sexuality-he's obsessed with a transvestite stripper named Sweet Girl-and perhaps the voices in his head; he imagines that the angel Gabriel talks to him from time to time. Black hovers precariously on a kind of sexual abyss, unsure where he fits in. Is he homosexual? Does he really want to be a woman? He's not the only one grappling with childhood wounds; all of Abani's characters are scarred in some manner. A bleak, searing and sad portrait of outcasts.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780143038771
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
01/30/2007
Pages:
304
Product dimensions:
5.16(w) x 7.74(h) x 0.81(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
Abani [is] a fluid, closely observant writer. (The Washington Post)

Abani’s intensely visual style—and his sense of humor—convert the stuff of hopelessness into the stuff of hope. (San Francisco Chronicle)

GraceLand amply demonstrates that Abani has the energy, ambition and compassion to create a novel that delineates and illuminates a complicated, dynamic, deeply fractured society. (Los Angeles Times)

Abani . . . has written an exhilarating novel, all the more astonishing for its hard-won grace and, yes, redemption. (The Village Voice)

In depicting how deeply external politics can affect internal thinking, GraceLand announces itself as a worthy heir to Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. Like that classic of Nigerian literature, it gives a multifaceted, human face to a culture struggling to find its own identity while living with somebody else’s. (Minneapolis Star-Tribune)

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Meet the Author

Chris Abani, author of GraceLand and Becoming Abigail, was born in Nigeria and has lived in London, New York, and Los Angeles. He is currently an associate professor at the University of California, Riverside.

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The Virgin of Flames 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book was a very slow read for me at first and i didnt appreciate the artistry until the ending. It is beautiful and dark, the story of an artist torn with himself and longing to belong in a world that he hates.