Half Slum, Half Paradise: Abani’s Global Cities

  • Dustin Crowley
Part of the Geocriticism and Spatial Literary Studies book series (GSLS)


Early on in the novel GraceLand, the protagonist Elvis Oke ruminates on the seeming paradox of Lagos, with its staggering inequalities breeding both luxury and deprivation, opportunity and repression in such close proximity that he cannot comprehend their entanglement. Through Elvis’s experience as an urban newcomer, and to a large extent throughout his literary corpus, Chris Abani explores the enigma of the urban landscape, especially in its interactions with the vagaries of globalization. His narratives inhabit the knotty intersection and interplay of city and scale that shape Africa’s metropolises and the world cities where Africans find themselves, detailing the profoundly ambiguous causes, conditions, and consequences of global urbanity. His main characters struggle—and generally fail—to ground themselves in fluid, disruptive, and often unjust cityscapes; yet at the same time, Abani portrays (especially marginalized) urban spaces as places of vitality and value, engendering possibilities for alterity that exist alongside of—and perhaps arise out of—the hardships of city life. Refracted through cities as diverse yet connected as London, Los Angeles, and Lagos, Abani’s ambivalent representation of global urbanity complicates notions of mobility, hybridity, and victimization that are often attached to discussions about cities, eschewing simplistic evaluations about the progressive or oppressive nature of thesephenomena. Instead, Abani’s narratives challenge readers to grapple with the multidimensional, multiscalar forces at work producing the world’s beautiful and ugly, violent and vital cities.


Informal Settlement Urban Space African City World City Global City 
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© Dustin Crowley 2015

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  • Dustin Crowley

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