The Secret History of Las Vegas by Chris Abani

secret history las vegas

This is the story of co-joined twins, whose foetuses fused in their mother’s womb when she found herself downwind of a nuclear test in Nevada, and a South African man who is involved in some sort of dodgy psychological testing lab involving testing on animals and homeless people. Some bodies are found out by a Lake near the city and a police office accuses one and gets the other one to help him.

I will admit that a major reason why I picked this book up was the title. It is set in the city where I live. After a chapter or two it becomes obvious that Abani has visited for a long weekend, perhaps, if at all. I presume he wanted to set it in Vegas because of the nuclear testing near the city, but I think it may have flowed better if he had set it somewhere he knew a little better. I would certainly have been less grating in the references to Vegas (at least to a “local”, such as I am). The twins could have moved to another city where all this could have taken place.

The story flashes back to our protagonist’s earlier life in South Africa during apartheid. Presumably to draw parallels between the way that country’s indigenous population was treated then, and the way the US treats the indigenous population. It just makes the novel feel a little disjointed to me. It is primarily a whodunnit; who left the bodies, what are those Siamese twins up to, who is the dodgy bloke following our protagonist? But slipping backwards to his youth only answers one of those questions, and it does not really fit with the Vegas sides of things. I was left wondering quite what Abani had hoped to achieve.

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