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Refresh and try again. Open Preview See a Problem? Details if other :. Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. The Virgin of Flames by Chris Abani. In his second novel, set against the uncompromising landscape of East L. The Virgin of Flames , a marvelous and gritty novel filled with indelible images and unforgettable characters, confirms Chris Abani as an immensely talented writer. Get A Copy.

Paperback , pages. Published January 30th by Penguin Books first published January 1st More Details Original Title. Other Editions Friend Reviews. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about The Virgin of Flames , please sign up. Lists with This Book. Community Reviews.

Showing Rating details. More filters. Sort order. Dec 24, Trish rated it it was amazing Shelves: fiction , immigration , literature , religion , america , author-i-d-most-like-to-meet , race , totally-unexpected , africa , art. This novel by Chris Abani is the literary equivalent of a Diane Arbus photograph—unsettling, terrible, grotesque, yet artistic. In the strange underbelly of the City of Angels Abani finds a kind of hope that describes something in human nature.

Ambiguous sexuality and race, death and desire This novel by Chris Abani is the literary equivalent of a Diane Arbus photograph—unsettling, terrible, grotesque, yet artistic. Ambiguous sexuality and race, death and desire, religiosity and uncertain faith are themes Abani returns to again and again in his writing.

His main character, Black, is conflicted about his desires, and his confusion leads him to seek out those who have made unconventional choices, in hopes they will illuminate the path. Black is an artist, a painter, but not for money. He paints murals on the sides of buildings, a type of large-scale graffiti requiring long hours hanging from pulleys and ropes. Those phrases are interspersed with lines from renowned poets, shocking in their clarity and beauty when paired with filth.

In the City of Angels, Black is plagued by the Archangel Gabriel, who sometimes appears as a huge human figure, or otherwise as a pigeon. Abani is reminding us that Islamic texts have recorded the Angel Gabriel appearing to prophets conveying news of the Annunciation or the incarnation of Christ, just as in early Jewish and Christian texts, showing commonalities these religions once enjoyed.

Whiteface and a blond wig allow him to escape his race. In a stolen wedding dress drenched in blood and turpentine, Black accidentally becomes an emblem—a horrible and disgraceful emblem—of desire, of a perverted hope. The finale of the book is classic L. View all 8 comments. Oct 20, jo rated it it was amazing Shelves: the-body , 4class , african-american , psychic-pain , blew-my-mind , queer , trauma , experimental , mama-is-crazy. View all 11 comments. Abani's said it himself before look up his TED Talks online-- they're great -- that a gendered or raced person is inevitably read for his identity rather than his imagination.

If you're going to read this novel, the worst thing you could do is put on the anthropologist's khaki hat, walk in with your legal pad, and wait to be "informed" about queer urban subculture. You're also doomed if, as many of these reviews do, you write off Black as a whining, too-egregiously-symbolically-named, financially insolvent artist merely playing out the plight-of-the-impoverished-painter in a modern-day setting. And, likewise, if you enter the novel as a queer, trans person, or sex worker braced to bristle about yet another violent mis-representation of "your" community.

Get these points straight: this novel is not speaking for anybody. It is not missionizing in the name of the radical left. It is not exploiting sex workers. After all, isn't Sweet Girl the heroine who successfully defends herself in the end? Isn't Black the benighted visionary who never quite succeeds and pointedly fails, quite literally, in having a future? And isn't that failure all the result of his own phobia, prejudice, shame, self-abhorrence, etc.? Aren't those ugly things that everyone has felt at some point in time?

You've got to approach this one literarily: think of sex work as a hyperbolic metaphor, not a political choice or unfair occupation. Think of transgenderism as a source of crisis and conflict, not only an identity per se. Think of Black as a protagonist who never gets to play the hero-- and consider why there might be a reason for that, instead of just writing off the novel as "another boring story about a poor, black queermo who sucks at life.

Jun 24, Wyatt rated it really liked it. Fans of Middlesex will surely like The Virgin of Flames. The synopsis a street artist who's obsessed with a transexual had me unsure that it would be my kind of book, despite having loved Abani's last book, Graceland. Abani picks up where he left off with the strange eroticism that his last character got out of putting on makeup as an Elvis impersonator, and takes it to the next level It's not the L. It's the other L. It's Wassup Rockers, but Wassup Transvestite.

It's the next best thing in magical-realism-meets-gay-lit since A Visitation of Spirits. Okay, so this book's a mind-grabber. It has a lot more going for it than just a transexual love story I'm definitley a big fan of stories in which an ordinary guy gets boosted to the status of a religious figure Palanhiuk has been there before with Survivor.

My last read was The Highest Tide, another case where people want so badly to believe that they won't even take the scientific testimony of the person responsible for the hoax. Abani writes, "You're a good man, Black. I'm not. Let me believe it. According to Abani's main character Black, L.

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State of Mind. You can become the person that you want to be in an instant And if it was, it was a hidden city. There were several cities within it, and you had to yield to it, before it revealed an of its magic to you. It was a slow realization In that way, it was a grown up city. The one line that summed up his book as an endeavor: "carrying the darkness like a perverted torch. It was a great book to read the day after Pride Parade in Providence.

It will keep you questioning your preconceptions about gender. Now I have this big rolly polly giant of a writer marching around in my mind March on you big stud May 15, David Sasaki rated it really liked it. There are two ways for me to think about The Virgin of Flames. Or, B. Obviously, I prefer sticking with B. It's obvious that he walked almost every block of East LA while writing it.

They are who make Los Angeles such a special place. Oct 19, Rashaan rated it really liked it Shelves: fiction. A violent and visceral take on the abstract experience of being multi-racial in the United States. Abani physicalizes what can often be a very nebulous and ephemeral existence, and stabs onto the page the confusion, the shape-shifting, and liminal consciousness of mixed race identities. Set in the City of Angels, he brilliantly captures what often defies language. Jan 22, Chad rated it it was amazing.

Abani read last Friday night in the District of Columbia. Dec 06, Amanda Birdwell rated it it was ok. I feel bad. And I have to say that at least I was able to finish this one -- unlike Graceland, which I have checked out and returned about a million times. I just I just don't want to hear that much about penises. I get that it is a valid topic to write about. I even imagine that, five years ago, I could have written a fabulously self-indulgent paper on Black and his penis and his experie I feel bad. I even imagine that, five years ago, I could have written a fabulously self-indulgent paper on Black and his penis and his experience of being raped, having sex with a transgendered person, getting painful erections and half-erections and no erections.

But it's like -- what is the story here? What happens between the beginning and end of this book?

The Virgin of Flames

He gets raped, but that's treated as incidental. He hooks up with Sweet Girl, but then he beats her up. His friend dies, but I don't even really recall the guy's name. There are these moments; there is this mood. I thought about the book a lot while I was reading it. Truthfully, I think he has some of the same limitations that I did, as a writer -- he's so caught up in the inexpressible aspects of experience that he's lost interest in a conventional narrative. He doesn't think he has to tell as story, or he thinks he is telling a story, but I can't follow it, as a reader.

But the dogs, though. There is this singular image of these dogs, and it makes me think I missed the entire book. Because there are moments in Virgin that are transcendent. There's just so much shifting-through that has to happen, first. So I finish the book and I'm just thinking about that one moment, with these dying dogs, and of Black's penis.

Because, really, dude.

The Virgin of Flames by Chris Abani - PopMatters

Every page. Jun 05, Tyler Stoffel rated it really liked it. Black, a year-old the age of Christ half-Nigerian half-Salvadorean mural artist spends his time being chased around East LA by the archangel Gabriel while he obsesses over a transexual stripper and his own desire to dress in women's clothes, as he paints a fifty-foot tall mural of the Virgin of Fatima. Sounds crazy, but it is told so well that I believe it. I loved the dirty city imagery and the casual drug use portrayed. Very good characters, Black, Ziggy and Bomboy are all interesting, and Black, a year-old the age of Christ half-Nigerian half-Salvadorean mural artist spends his time being chased around East LA by the archangel Gabriel while he obsesses over a transexual stripper and his own desire to dress in women's clothes, as he paints a fifty-foot tall mural of the Virgin of Fatima.

Very good characters, Black, Ziggy and Bomboy are all interesting, and somewhat dark. Abani develops them just slowly enough to givethe reader familiarity, while keeping them mysterious. The motivations of the characters are believable, even at the very end when Black deviates from his calm, passive demeaner into a woman ish -beating man.


This is also a good example of a writer developing the setting as character, both East LA and the LA river are presented more as characters with personalities than as places. This story was handled very well by Abani. He overlays the absurdity of LA and the American version of celebrity onto the down and dirty lives of a trio of marginalized characters, two of which are very successful, one in a third-world entrepreneurial way, the other in an only-in-LA way.

The poetic prose is worth reading, I would have enjoyed just the city desriptions even if there was no plot. Feb 18, Kate Gould rated it did not like it. Los Angeles, California. Black is a busy man. By day he collects racist and sexist jokes from toilets for his mural one from Buckingham Palace via Sharon Osborne , while being stalked by Archangel Gabriel, and obsessing over transvestite stripper, Sweet Girl.

I did learn something: transvestite strippers hide their genitalia through careful manipulation and strategically placed surgical tape. Jul 19, Ann Keren-zvi rated it it was amazing. The characters in the book are fable like and the story takes place in East LA. The beautiful, gritty prose elegantly capture an essence of a city known as the City of Angels. I will continue to read passages from this book because of the writing.

Mr Abani's chapters click off like photographs, and like a photograph can privately and intimately draw you into that world. Feb 10, Jamila rated it really liked it Shelves: lgbtqia , california. This book surprised me. It was heartbreaking and sad; yet, there were spots of humor and joy. As soon as the angel Gabriel shows up in various guises, from a foot-tall apparition to a lowly pigeon, impending tragedy is palpable.

With a command of Los Angeles' underbelly reminiscent of Walter Mosley at his most striking, Abani spirits his angst-ridden artist toward a breathtakingly unexpected, if perhaps inescapable, conclusion. Thane Tierney is a recovering record executive living mere blocks from some of the locations mentioned in this book. By Nefertiti Austin. Sign up for our newsletters! These have evolved