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The Face: Cartography of the Void, by Chris Abani
Download PDF The Face: Cartography of the Void, by Chris Abani
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In The Face: Cartography of the Void, acclaimed poet, novelist, and screenwriter Chris Abani has given us a brief memoir that is, in the best tradition of the genre, also an exploration of the very nature of identity. Abani meditates on his own face, beginning with his early childhood that was immersed in the Igbo culture of West Africa. The Face is a lush work of art that teems with original and profound insights into the role of race, culture, and language in fashioning our sense of self. Abani’s writing is poetic, filled with stories, jokes, and reflections that draw readers into his fold; he invites them to explore their own “faces” and the experiences that have shaped them.
As Abani so lovingly puts it, this extended essay contemplates “all the people who have touched my face, slapped it, punched it, kissed it, washed it, shaved it. All of that human contact must leave some trace, some of the need and anger that motivated that touch. This face is softened by it all. Made supple by all the wonder it has beheld, all the kindness, all the generosity of life.” The Face is a gift to be read, re-read, shared, and treasured, from an author at the height of his artistic powers. Abani directs his gaze both inward and out toward the world around him, creating a self-portrait in which readers will also see their own faces reflected.
Abani’s essay is part of a groundbreaking new series from Restless Books called The Face, in which a diverse group of writers takes readers on a guided tour of that most intimate terrain: their own faces. Visit www.restlessbooks.com/the-face-series for more information.
Chris Abani is a novelist, poet, essayist, screenwriter, and playwright. Born in Nigeria to an Igbo father and English mother, he grew up in Afikpo, Nigeria, and has resided in the United States since 2001. His fiction includes The Secret History of Las Vegas, Song For Night, The Virgin of Flames, Becoming Abigail, GraceLand, and Masters of the Board. His poetry collections are Sanctificum, There Are No Names for Red, Feed Me The Sun – Collected Long Poems, Hands Washing Water, Dog Woman, Daphne’s Lot, and Kalakuta Republic.
- Sales Rank: #478212 in eBooks
- Published on: 2015-04-02
- Released on: 2015-04-02
- Format: Kindle eBook
“A fascinating meditation on identity that explores the novelist’s own mixed heritage and mixed feelings….A true citizen of the world….With great insight and compassion, Abani reveals that behind his—and every—face are unseen scars.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“I devoured it a single sitting. It’s light and easy, and also heavy and thought-provoking. It’s not exactly a memoir, but it’s a moving and funny account of inhabiting what Esi Edugyan calls the ‘yes, but where are you really from?’ question.”
— The New Inquiry
“Chris Abani describes his face as ‘a mixture of two races, of two cultures, of two lineages’ (he was born in Nigeria to an Igbo father and English mother), writing with humor, anguish and acceptance about ancestry and family and ‘wearing’ his father’s face.”
— Patricia Hagen, Minneapolis Star Tribune
“This is a man who has seen the darkness in humans and who still [mostly] likes us, who can laugh, make jokes, love others deeply. We feel safe with him, and if he can’t save us when something bad happens, at least we shared something real with another for awhile. Abani writes fiction and poetry—how real and important can that be? Quite real enough to reveal both the dark heart and warm center that most humans harbor.”
—The Bowed Bookshelf
“Chris Abani might be the most courageous writer working right now. There is no subject matter he finds daunting, no challenge he fears. Aside from that, he’s stunningly prolific and writes like an angel. If you want to get at the molten heart of contemporary fiction, Abani is the starting point.”
— Dave Eggers
“Chris Abani is easily one of most important voices in literature today.”
“What do our faces say about us — and how much of what they say is fair? That’s one of the questions posed by Restless Books’s intriguing new series The Face, in which writers use their own countenances as launchpads into the imaginative stratosphere . . . in Chris Abani‘s Cartography of the Void, part of the series’s inaugural triptych (along with short works by Ruth Ozeki and Tash Aw), we’re not disappointed . . . Can we dismiss the significance of our faces when they bear so strongly the marks of who we were as much as who we are? It could seem like a pessimistic question. But Abani isn’t pessimistic. Seeing his father in himself is troubling but it also opens up a path to understanding. And so it is that he can hope: ‘That my face, and my father’s face, and his father’s face before him will blaze in an unending lineage of light and forgiveness.’”
— Charles Arrowsmith, House of SpeakEasy
“Abani is a force to be reckoned with, a world-class novelist and poet.”
— Russell Banks, author of Lost Memory of Skin
“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 [is] a fluid, closely observant writer.”
— The Washington Post
“Abani is a fiction writer of mature and bounteous gifts.”
— The New York Times
“A master, a literary shaman.”
— Brad Kessler, author of Birds in Fall
“Abani writes in a fearless prose.”
— Time Out Chicago
About the Author
Chris Abani is a novelist, poet, essayist, screenwriter, and playwright. Born in Nigeria to an Igbo father and English mother, he grew up in Afikpo, Nigeria, received a BA in English from Imo State University, Nigeria, an MA in English, Gender, and Culture from Birkbeck College, University of London, and a PhD in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Southern California. He has resided in the United States since 2001. His fiction includes The Secret History of Las Vegas, Song For Night, The Virgin of Flames, Becoming Abigail, GraceLand, and Masters of the Board. His poetry collections are Sanctificum, There Are No Names for Red, Feed Me The Sun: Collected Long Poems, Hands Washing Water, Dog Woman, Daphne’s Lot, and Kalakuta Republic. He is the recipient of the PEN USA Freedom-to-Write Award, the Prince Claus Award, a Lannan Literary Fellowship, a California Book Award, a Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, a PEN Beyond the Margins Award, the PEN Hemingway Book Prize, and a Guggenheim Award.
Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful.
A moving and unsentimental take on race from a great Nigerian-American writer.
By Avidity Jones
Chris Abani is a poet and a storyteller, and you get the sense reading his long-form essay, “The Face,” that he’d tell you the two things aren’t so different. But this book is much more than just poetry and lyricism (which it has in spades); it’s a profound exploration of race and identity, African history and personal history, that is utterly unique and yet somehow also universal and above all, timely. Abani was born into the Igbo tribal culture in Nigeria, and now he lives in Chicago. He’s also lived many places in between, his identity shifting in relation to his setting:
“When I lived in East Los Angeles, a predominately Chicano/Latino neighborhood, I was assumed to be Dominican or Panamanian. In Miami, where I go regularly for religious reasons, I am confused for a Cuban. In New Zealand I was assumed to be Maori. In Australia, Aborigine. In Egypt, Nubian. In Qatar, Pakistani. In South Africa, Zulu or some other group, depending on who was talking. Other times, because of my accent, which is a mix of Nigerian, British, and now American inflections, I am assumed to be from “one of the islands.” No one accepts my Nigerianness, not without argument. In fact, the two things I have been rarely taken for— Nigerian and white—are the very things that form my DNA.”
I loved this book, which as a Kindle Single makes for the perfect single-sitting read. After I read it, I walked around inspired—it’s the kind of book to give a friend or enemy, saying “Read this, you’ll feel better, both in head and heart.”
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful.
An elegant read that reads you
Thought provoking reflection on that which is both strange, communal, and personal- the face. You’ll journey with the author into the places where our complex lives weave into the bigger narrative of the bloodlines we represent; the circles we run – around love and hate, identity and conformity; the things we disown to find we cannot truly disown; the ways we both remember and forget. Running through it all is the understated but graceful, even beautiful way these tensions and the profound mystery of it all-being, identity and belonging- is pinned to earth in the unique faces we wear. After reading, your face & everyone else’s will no longer be ‘just’ a face to you!
0 of 0 people found the following review helpful.
The work of Chris Abani crosses national boundaries. He calls himself a “global Igbo,” referring to his lineage, and to the fact that he has so many foreign influences on his experience as a Nigerian. Brought up privileged in an educated middle-class household with a white British mother and an Oxford-educated Igbo father, Abani had access to western music, American novels, Bollywood films, Indian mysticism as a youth. He was a precocious fourth son, starting to write in his early teens.
His face, which he talks about in this memoir, has a kind of universality so that people often mistake him for Lebanese, Arab, Indian, Dominican, Cuban, Hawaiian, or Maori. When his Korean manicurist in L.A. called his face “comfortable,” Abani writes “Comfortable face. I liked it. Made me think of a well-worn armchair that I’d like to collapse into after a rough day. A face made for sitting in. Where one could sip a sweet spicy ginger tea and talk about love and books and karaoke. A face worn in by living, worn in by suffering, by pain, by loss, but also by laughter and joy and the gifts of love and friendship, of family, of travel, of generations of DNA blending to make a true mix of human. I think of all the stress and relief of razors scraping hair from my face. Of extreme weather. Of rain. Of sun. I think of all the people who have touched my face, slapped it, punched it, kissed it, washed it, shaved it. All of that human contact must leave some trace, some of the need and anger that motivated that touch. This face is softened by it all. Made supple by all the wonder it has beheld, all the kindness, all the generosity of life.
Comfortable face.”It is not just the face of Chris Abani that is comfortable. He makes us comfortable about ourselves, about the world, about our fears and aspirations. Abani’s fiction reveals the insides of characters who are often different in some way, their very differentness expressing their underlying and universal humanity. We are all different from one another. It is our differentness that makes us the same.
At the same time, Abani makes us uncomfortable. In an essay for Witness magazine entitled, “Ethics and Narrative: the Human and Other,” he writes “In making my art, and sometimes when I teach, I am like a crazed, spirit-filled, snake-handling, speaking-in-tongues, spell-casting, Babylon-chanting-down, new-age, evangelical preacher wildly kicking the crutches away from my characters, forcing them into their pain and potential transformation. Alas, or maybe not, I also kick the crutches away from my readers. And many have fled from the revival tents of my art, screaming in terror.”When we go to dark places in ourselves, Abani suggests, we can come back, better. “When you are at your worst, you can see yourself most clearly.” At your worst, you can see your choices most clearly, and choose goodness, compassion. This is a man who has seen the darkness in humans and who still [mostly] likes us, who can laugh, make jokes, love others deeply. We feel safe with him, and if he can’t save us when something bad happens, at least we shared something real with another for awhile. Abani writes fiction and poetry—how real and important can that be? Quite real enough to reveal both the dark heart and warm center that most humans harbor. “Language actually makes the world in which we live.” Language, and literature, at its best, can be transformative. We can create our world anew by what we say, what we think, what we read, what we write. But we therefore have an obligation to use words [and actions] that do not harsh the environment, but gentle it, that explain and improve the world.
Abani is a black man, but his writing has few markers for what passes for “black” in America. In a 2014 interview with Rumpus Magazine Abani tells Rumpus interviewer Peter Orner that having grown up in a black-majority country, he was not defined by his race until he left Nigeria and went to Britain and the United States.
Though he has lived in the United States for some ten years or more, Abani does not write in the style of white or black America, though he clarifies in an NPR interview (Illinois), “Africa could never have the literature it does without the influence of black Americans.” African literature makes no attempt to fit into the Western canon: African writers are having this conversation over here, and if you want to join in you must make accommodation. Interestingly, Abani finds writing in America freeing, partly because of the language, which is constantly influenced by our immigrant population, and because of the vitality and variety of experience and geography.
Abani’s students, and we readers, often “forget he is black” because he assumes the right to speak with his own voice and deals with universal themes. But Abani observes and occasionally writes of the oppression of black people in this country: “Slavery [in Amerca] is not really over”. In this memoir he mentions that when he is stopped while driving, the cops seem surprised and almost “offended by his [British] accent.” He recognizes that as an educated middle-class African, he has a privileged position in American society. “Race in America has more to do with social position than it has to do with biological race.”
Abani now teaches writing at Northwestern University in Chicago. Daria Tunca of the University of Liège in Belgium has compiled a wonderfully complete bibliography of Abani’s work (and short biography) which includes links to interviews, readings, and Abani’s website. I share my favorite links below because I feel his work is essential reading/listening. Somehow the issues we face in the world are pointed to by this big man with the small voice and small toes. And he gives us some answers: You reflect my humanity back at me. Ubuntu.
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