Waiting for an Angel

Waiting for an Angel

by Helon Habila

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The generation-defining successor to Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart.

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


The generation-defining successor to Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart.

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 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.

Author Biography: Helon Habila won the Caine Prize for African Writing 2001 for the opening section of this novel. He lives in London.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Habila's first novel captures the chaos and brutality of Nigeria in the 1990s under the rule of despotic military dictator Gen. Sani Abacha. The story follows Lomba, a quixotic, apolitical student in the capital city of Lagos, who is trying to write a novel in his shabby tenement on Morgan Street (better known as Poverty Street) and covering arts for a city newspaper, the Dial. Soon, Lomba's roommate is attacked by soldiers, journalists are arrested all over the city and the Dial offices are set on fire. Lomba decides to take part in a prodemocracy demonstration. There, he is arrested and imprisoned for three years. The novel's narrative moves back and forth in time, beginning with Lomba's life in prison and ending with the climactic events leading up to the arrest. Some chapters are written in the third person, others narrated by Lomba himself and still others by a high school student named Kela, who lives near Lomba on Poverty Street and crosses paths with him just before the fateful demonstration. Through their eyes, Habila paints an extraordinary tableau of Poverty Street ("one of the many decrepit, disease-ridden quarters that dotted the city of Lagos like ringworm on a beggar's body"), bringing their sounds, sights and smells to life with his spare prose and flair for metaphor. Kela's aunt runs the Godwill Food Centre Restaurant; through his encounters with the patrons, as well as his activist English teacher, Kela (and readers) learn about Nigeria's bloody postcolonial history. Though somewhat marred by the abrupt, disorienting shifts among narrators and time periods, this is a powerful, startlingly vivid novel. (Jan.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Nigerian author Habila's debut novel is a noble account of how even the poorest and lowliest people must rise up against oppression, regardless of the consequences. Habila tells the story of Lomba as he goes from student to failed novelist to journalist to political prisoner, trying to retain his dignity despite the corruption and violence that has contaminated every part of Nigerian society. As, one by one, those he loves or cares about are battered in one way or another by the regime, Lomba realizes that he must take action, however small, in order to remain human. While an afterword explains the history of Nigeria's brutal juntas, it is Habila's fictionalization that reveals the true casualties of oppression better than any news account or history. Each chapter could stand on its own as a short story-the first section received the 2001 Caine Prize for African Writing-but together they form a powerful portrait of a people beaten down by poverty and violence but not destroyed by them. Recommended for all public libraries.-Ellen Flexman, Indianapolis-Marion Cty. P.L., IN Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A young Nigerian intellectual collides with his country's brutal military regime, in this intense first novel by a native African writer now living in London.

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.

The Observer
“Habila leaves us a chink of hope, just as he leaves space for irony, love, heartbreak, and humor as the punches rain down....This is a beautifully judged work, powerful, compassionate and complete.”
Doris Lessing
“Tender, funny and compassionate.”
Wally Hammond - Time Out
“Habila employs a prose whose spirituality recalls Wole Soyinka, Amilcar Cabral and King.”
“Habila's language is joyous—a celebration of artistic freedom and a stylish two fingers at his previous oppressors.”
Publishing News
“Brilliantly captures the reign of terror in Lagos in the 1990s.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Habila's debut is exciting...he is one of the first literary voices to emerge from the newly democratic Nigeria.”
The Times [London]
“In elegant, economical, and often lyrical prose, Habila captures the state of terror under which Nigerians were forced to live.”
Village Voice
“Like an angel, Habila has breathed new life into his world.”

Product Details

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.

Meet the Author

Helon Habila is the internationally renowned author of Waiting for an Angel, which won both the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Caine Prize for African Writing, and Measuring Time and Oil on Water. He was born in Nigeria and now divides his time between America and Nigeria.

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