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In his novel about a black Elvis impersonator living in the slums of Lagos,
Nigeria, Chris Abani presents a lyrical and terrifying glimpse of a place saturated in American
icons and pop culture, but entirely unlike America. In this melting pot, the disparate ingredients—John
Wayne and King Kong, Bob Marley and Bollywood, Wole Soyinka and native Igbo rituals—are
at a roiling boil.

Abani was imprisoned at the hands of the military regime in Nigeria in
the mid-1980s. His poems and this novel speak with the authority of that experience, but GraceLand
is far from propaganda. It raises complicated questions of moral responsibility in communities
that are at the mercy of absolute and absolutely corrupted powers.

The novel’s weakness lies in its organization; important characters
and themes disappear, their emotional weight left hanging. But the momentum of this Elvis’ coming-of-age
story is nonetheless powerful. His friend Redemption leads him into the darkness of Lagos’ criminal
underworld. Elvis’ resistance to the compromises he is asked to make—Where, he asks, do
the drugs he is packaging go?—ends up risking both his and Redemption’s lives.

Elvis’ morality makes him ultimately unfit for life in Lagos. America,
the birthplace of the real Elvis and the land of better impersonating opportunities, remains the
promised land. It’s a welcome promise of hope and change—for Elvis. But Abani runs the risk
of indicting everyone who remains in Lagos; after all the beauty he has shown us amid the horror,
that seems unfair.

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

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