Waiting for an Angelby Helon Habila
"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 general; and his neighbors on Poverty Street are planning a demonstration that is… See more details below
"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 general; 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 debut opens a window onto a world in some ways familiar - with is 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.
Lomba is a Lagos journalist and would-be novelist whom we meet in 1997, when he's imprisoned on fabricated charges, sunk in depression, which is recorded faithfully in his diary-and appropriated by the prison superintendent, who coaxes "Love Poems" out of Lomba, then sends them to his own mistress. Thereafter, the tale moves (rather chaotically) about in time as Habila focuses on: Lomba's friend Bola, whose reckless antigovernment speeches destroy his life; the woman Lomba loves but cannot marry because she's promised to another, an older man who pays her ailing mother's medical bills; Lomba's tenure at a magazine of arts and politics, The Dial (whose harried editor admonishes the idealistic young writer with "Everything is politics in this country, don't forget that"); and the experiences of Kela, a teenaged delinquent sent to Lagos to live with relatives, who encounters Lomba just prior to the protest demonstration and consequent bloodbath that send Lomba to prison (his "crime": observing and reporting the aforementioned demonstration). The "angel" for whom Lomba thereafter passively waits is the Angel of Death-as we're reminded by far too many sententious generalizations about freedom stifled and "the stymied, sense-dulling miasma of existence." Fortunately, these are offset by Habila's gift for vivid sensory descriptions and employment of a rich pattern of images in which birds and flight suggest energy and escape, but also the elusiveness of loved and desired things; how swiftly and completely they can vanish.
Comparisonsof Habila to Nigeria's great novelist Chinua Achebe are, to put it mildly, premature. But he's an obviously committed and serious writer: on balance, a more than worthy debut.
- Penguin UK
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Read an Excerpt
In the middle of his second year in prison, Lomba got access to pencil and paper and he started a diary. It was not easy. He had to write in secret, mostly in the early mornings when the night warders, tired of peeping through the door bars, waited impatiently for the morning shift. Most of the entries he simply headed with the days of the week; the exact dates, when he used them, were often incorrect. The first entry was in July 1997, a Friday.
Friday, July 1997
Today I began a diary, to say all the things I want to say, to myself, because here in prison there is no one to listen. I express myself. It stops me from standing in the centre of this narrow cell and screaming at the top of my voice. It stops me from jumping up suddenly and bashing my head repeatedly against the wall. Prison chains not so much your hands and feet as it does your voice.I express myself. I let my mind soar above these walls to bring back distant, exotic bricks with which I seek to build a more endurable cell within this cell. Prison. Misprison. Dis. Un. Prisoner. See? I write of my state in words of derision, aiming thereby to reduce the weight of these walls on my shoulders, to rediscover my nullified individuality. Here in prison loss of self is often expressed as anger. Anger is the baffled prisoner's attempt to re-crystallize his slowly dissolving self. The anger creeps up on you, like twilight edging out the day. It builds in you silently until one day it explodes in violence, surprising you. I saw it happen in my first month in prison. A prisoner, without provocation, had attacked an unwary warder at the toilets. The prisoner had come out of a bath-stall and there was the warder before him, monitoring the morning ablutions. Suddenly the prisoner leaped upon him, pulling him by the neck to the ground, grinding him into the black, slimy water that ran in the gutter from the toilets. He pummeled the surprised face repeatedly until other warders came and dragged him away. They beat him to a pulp before throwing him into solitary.
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