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Waiting for an Angel by Helon Habila

Waiting for an Angel

by Helon Habila

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A young idealistic intellectual journalist, Lomba, collides with his country's brutal military regime. Meanwhile, students and other local characters, and his neighbors on Poverty Street surround him and have ordinary and extraordinary dramas of ambition and passion, tragic hope and courage. Lomba must play a part in these dramas like everyone else.
  MerrittGibsonLibrary | Jun 30, 2016 |
Written as a collection of linked short stories within the novel form, Waiting for an Angel is a completely engrossing story of Nigeria in its tumultuous 1990s—danger, chaos, violence, despair...and yet, it is ultimately an amazingly uplifting book. It is certainly one of my best reads this year.

The story's link is Lomba, a promising young journalist writing for a local Lagos newspaper. In the first story we find hm in prison as a political prisoner when the warden taps Lomba to help him write love poetry to a woman he is interested in. And then, like in a dot-to-dot exercise, the author introduces us to other characters— students, neighbors, and local characters—all with some connection to Lomba, all living lives as normal as they can in the chaos and uncertainly of the rapidly changing political atmosphere of the time. The author eventually brings the story back to Lomba, of course. The format of the novel is inextricably linked to the story, both in connecting Lomba to others (making him kind of an everyman) and for illustrating the fragmentation of their world (not sure that latter bit conveys accurately what I want to say).

Through a very different story and cast of characters, this book reminds me a bit of Tahar Ben Jelloun's This Blinding Absence of Light in that it illustrates the resilience of the human spirit in the bleakest of times—a powerful message of hope. ( )
1 vote avaland | Dec 14, 2013 |
When Gen. Sani Abacha died, I was in South Africa and a Nigerian acquaintance frantically sought me out. I would have expected her to be relieved that arguably the most brutal Nigerian regime had ended. She wasn't. Instead, she wanted me to e-mail her sons to warn them to stay inside and do nothing to antagonize the soldiers or any of the parties likely to vie for power. She spent the next few days agitated and afraid. Sometimes, hope is crushed so often that it is replaced by an almost instinctual fear, wariness or even despair. Helon Habila's Waiting for an Angel paints a bleak picture of dashed hopes in Abacha's Nigeria by exploring the politicization and imprisonment of Lomba and those around him.

There are embers of hope in the novel. The courage of some characters and even the violence of others sometimes spark positive personal change. Unlike similarly-situated novels, e.g. Adichie's Purple Hibiscus, the institutional violence of public life does not find expression in personal violence within families and private life.

Yet, these embers are so few. After reading Waiting for an Angel one is left with a permeating sense of oppression. Habila draws us into it by using the narrative point of view of the main characters, by painting poignant backstories for them and by disjointed short stories (cum chapters) that comprise the novel. Because the narrative perspectives differ--from Lomba, to Bola, to Kela and back to Lomba--and because the chapters are not in sequential order, the experience for the reader can be jarring as he discovers anew the narrator and attunes himself to that narrator’s story. This forces the reader into something akin to the disconnect Nigerians must have felt with each new regime. Eventually, one sees it coming and prepares for it. Habila has drawn us into a situation devoid of meaningful hope. Romantic love is almost never rewarded except in ephemeral bursts. The pervasiveness of the oppression and the dearth of options forces people into decisions they would not otherwise make, that we might argue they shouldn’t make. Hopes don’t reside in the country, but in exiting it. Even those hopes people find are laughed at or scoffed at for their naivete.

The efficacy of Habila’s portrayal of the casualties of oppression is undercut by other elements of the work. Many of the female characters seem trite, e.g. the tough-skinned prostitute with the heart of gold, the drunkard shocked into mending her ways, the woman who chooses the prosperous suitor over her lover. Second, the last chapter (though not chronologically last) suffers from a polemicism that comes out of nowhere or at least from very muted, rare appearances previously in the novel. These are frustrations with an otherwise superior book that deepens the pool of great contemporary (not just classic) Nigerian literature.

12 July 2007 ( )
1 vote kahudson | Jul 12, 2007 |
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Although Habila won the Caine Prize, this novel was published after the award.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0393325113, Paperback)

"Habila's fictionalization...reveals the true casualties of oppression better than any news or history."—Library Journal

Lomba is a young journalist living under military rule in Lagos, Nigeria, the most dangerous city in the world. His mind is full of soul music and girls and the lyric novel he is writing. But his roommate is brutally attacked by soldiers; his first love is forced to marry a wealthy old man; and his neighbors on Poverty Street are planning a demonstration that is bound to incite riot and arrests. Lomba can no longer bury his head in the sand.

Helon Habila's vivid, exciting, and heart-wrenching debut opens a window onto a world in some ways familiar-with its sensuously depicted streets, student life, and vibrant local characters-yet ruled by one of the world's most corrupt and oppressive regimes, a scandal that ultimately drives Lomba to take a risk in the name of something greater than himself. Habila captures the energy, sensitivity, despair, and stubborn hope of a new African generation with a combination of gritty realism and poetic beauty. Winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing 2001. Reading group guide included.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:23 -0400)

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