A thrilling, epic story from a major new international talent.
Publishers WeeklyIn the late 1970s, twin brothers LaMamo and Mamo Lamang dream of leaving their Nigerian village to find fame and fortune. When they're 16, LaMamo runs away and joins various rebel factions fighting in West Africa, while his sickly brother, Mamo, stays behind with their belligerent father (their mother died in childbirth) and becomes a brilliant student. LaMamo's occasional letters let Mamo live vicariously but, more importantly, lets Habila (Waiting for an Angel) reinforce his work's central message-that the biographies of ordinary individuals provide the real stuff of history. As Mamo becomes the history teacher at a local school, LaMamo actually lives history, meeting Charles Taylor and witnessing the anarchic chaos of West Africa in the 1980s and '90s. Mamo embarks on a career as a chronicler of "biographical history" (modeled on Plutarch's Parallel Lives), beginning with a history of his village and his culture. Like his wayward brother, Mamo witnesses events that force him to examine his conscience. Habila fleshes out the novel with memorable secondary characters-a thuggish cousin, a damaged idealist love interest, an especially Machiavellian bureaucrat. The fresh, brilliant result contrasts cultural traditions with contemporary bureaucracy and reimagines a country through the ordinary and extraordinary experiences of its citizens. (Feb.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library JournalIn his second work (after Waiting for an Angel), Habila chronicles Nigeria's recent history as witnessed by a single family living in the village of Keti. Twins Mamo and LaMamo grow up in a motherless home with a domineering father and a wonderful aunt. Both boys dream of leaving the village someday. Mamo runs off as a teenager and becomes a soldier, meets the woman of his dreams, and moves to Liberia. LaMamo, a gifted writer afflicted with sickle cell anemia as a child, becomes a teacher and then secretary to the Mai (local political leader), whose biography he is asked to pen. Initially, he plans to use Plutarch's Parallel Lives as a model, but political events cause him to change the book's structure and make it a history of intertwining lives. This flawlessly written tale of life and love transports readers to the hot, dusty village of Keti and into the lives of the Lamang family. Habila's writing is powerful, gripping, and poetic without becoming sentimental. Habila is a fantastic author with a brilliant future; highly recommended for both public and academic libraries.-Lisa Rohrbaugh, East Palestine Memorial P.L., OH Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus ReviewsA story of struggle and survival in a small Nigerian village is the fruitful subject of African-born Habila's second novel (following his prize-winning debut, Waiting for an Angel, 2003). Twin brothers Mamo and LaMamo grow up in the comfortable home of their widowed father Lamang, a prosperous cattle merchant bent on carving out for himself a prestigious political career. But he's an unloving father, and vigorous, energetic LaMamo runs off to join the army (despite the sorrowful example of the boys' Uncle Haruna, a corpse-like casualty of the Biafran War), while frail, introspective Mamo (the protagonist), weakened by congenital sickle-cell anemia, must return ingloriously home. Throughout the 1970s, infrequent letters from his adventurous brother give Mamo an imaginative connection to the complexities and perils of African nationalism, as he grows to manhood to become a history teacher, a published writer and the pet intellectual of regional political leaders (the Mai and his colleague-and rival-the Waziri). Habila juxtaposes the depiction of Mamo's intellectual growth with the story of Lamang's self-destructive ambitions and, in a fascinating story within a story, the biography of the Mai he's commissioned to write (for reasons that, he'll discover, are less than celebratory). Mamo finds love with Zara, a beautiful and intelligent fledgling novelist, but, like his brother before her, she departs, in pursuit of a romantic dream. Famine strikes his village, religious fundamentalists spark violent riots and, when LaMamo, wounded and disillusioned, returns home, Mamo realizes he still has much to lose. The novel ends with Mamo's resolution to write the "biography" of his people, thuscelebrating their survival-through the age-old practice of communication with other cultures and respectful assimilation of their values. Few messages could resonate more strongly in these troubled times. An unusually rich and rewarding novel, which in its (many) best pages becomes something very like a native African Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
- Viking Penguin
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