Young Abigail is a Nigerian girl alternating short sections focusing on her past as well as her present life. She is Abigail the daughter but there is the dominant Abigail, the mother who died giving birth to her. The death of Abigail's mother plays a huge role in the entire novel. Abigail is portrayed as an affliction child, without a mother, striving to discover her future. She is an African girl, symbolizing the corrosion of national and confined cultural distinctiveness into the end monumental continental identity of Africa. Abigail tries to personify and preserve herself in her mother's figure and bequest. The father is chronic drunkard who foregoes his paternal obligations and responsibility. He has his daughter who constantly reminds him of his late wife. Abigail's is characterized by misery and tragedies. Her childhood is pathetic and she spends most of it mourning her late mother in commemorative self-induced rituals. She mutters incarnations, cuts herself, tears and burns her mother's photos, burns herself (Abani, p.10).
"And this. Even this," (p.18). The novella starts. In less significant hands, this may not be a hopeful starter, but Abani steers us out of the fog swiftly. "This memory like all the others was a lie." (p.18). Abigail, a youthful girl in Nigeria, is nostalgically recalling her mother's memorial service. Abigail act of mourning is to some extent troubling. It is symbolised by among other acts, the killing of birds and later dressing them in lace from her mother's bridal dress. But, as written by Abani, explaining the symbol from an authorial distance, we realize that not much is substantiated in the rest of the book, "this tradition recognized complex ways to be human, and she was allowed to mourn." (p.18).
In addition, another frequently evident symbolic device is the use of two alternating strands, "Now" and "Then," throughout the narrative. The latter is associated with Abigail's reminiscence of life in Nigeria with her depressed father and his choice to send her to London with a strange family member named Peter. Nearing to their departure, Abigail's father performs suicide, despite the fact that he had intuited the agonies in anticipation of his daughter.
The end of the first chapter leaves us with the impression that Abigail takes after her mother. Their extreme resemblance makes the author propel us through the mind of her father as he watched her mourn her mother's death similar to watching his dead wife grieve. She is likened to a younger version of her mother grieving her death in advance. Her father "turned and looked at her and she saw the photo and recognized it. She resembled her mother that when he saw her suddenly, she knew he wanted her to be Abigail." (Abani, p.20)
Although Abigail is now a grown-up, she misses her childhood, one that she never got to enjoy. The author takes us through her mind which juggles us from the present to her past and childhood. That's when the author alternates the two titles, Now and Then. Abigail has had an experience with men that she remembers with so much regret. All the in her life had never been interested in knowing her true personality neither appreciate her beauty, not to mention how she was careful with her hair to make sure that she looked presentable. She was light-skinned - An inherent feature from her great-grandmother. The author likens her to a foreign country, especially when it comes to the men in her life as they never stayed.
Abigail was a cartographer of dreams and ghosts. She is said to be more ghost than her mother. She likes landscape and marks and finds them interesting. Reading maps was her favorite thing. At one point, during her exile in London, she gets possessed with the memories of her mother, Chinese poetry, old maps and her childhood rituals, lies across an old crinkled map as if she was a corpse in a crime scene, transforming her body to the contours of countries and rivers, each landmark taking on a deeper meaning. She decides to mark her body permanently with fire. She initially loses her virginity to one of her cousins, Edwin, at ten before her father sends her off to London with another cousin, Peter, in the name of marriage at fifteen. Peter is apparently believed to be a prominent business man in London and Abigail's father believes that he is a well-bred man, good enough to take care of his daughter. Unknown to Abigail's father, Peter is malevolent and dehumanizing. Fakes her documents and tries to turn her into a prostitute, but when she declines, he ties her up in handcuffs in a doghouse, violates her sexually, urinates on her and beats her as well. Peter's debasement of Abigail portrays filth and hunger. Drinking from the plate of rancid water and having to bend over like a dog is disturbing.
She appreciates the permanence of fire. Burning herself and transforming her skin into a personal and collective map of trauma was a thing she wanted to do so much for the memory of her mother. She wanted to feel closely connected to her mother and make her memory concrete. She seeks out anecdotes about her mother, burns her body with thick flat noodles that burned into her skin by cashew sap. She also used needles and made ugly whip marks of cigarette tips. The burns and scars are extensions of her desire to become the living shadow and ghost of her mother's memory. They tie her to her mother's image and her motherland (p.36).
Abigail's grief process signifies the bitterness and sorrow in her. The author employs rituals as a process with potential to heal when faced with trauma and loss. She is in the end forced to choose between living in exile in England after her lose and trauma or returning to Nigeria. Nevertheless, everybody ends up dead, jailed or mutated. The entire novel is depressing and frustrating, full of despair and hopelessness. Some people's lives may turn out like Abigail's but drawing lessons from the novel remains difficult.