Year of Publication: 2002
Helon Habila’s Waiting for an Angel is a powerful narrative of different stories that come together to form one big story. In this book, Helon’s narrative is stimulating. The characters are real, true to life, living the day-to-day bustling life in Nigeria. Helon’s prose is deceivingly simple on the outlook yet culminates together in the end miraculously.
Together, there are seven stories and are linked together. The book captures many themes which we encounter from one story to another: life in prison, poverty, student life and protests, incarceration of journalists, difficulties faced by writers. However, the major theme that runs throughout the stories is living under dictatorship in Nigeria.
Lomba, a young journalist in Lagos is put in prison. He is a political prisoner. While in prison, we are told about Lomba’s encounter: how he ‘got access to pencil and paper and he started a diary.’ (p9) Habila tells us that ‘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.’(p9)
Later on, still in prison, Lomba’s life intersects with the Superintendent and then begins to write poems. On the third day in prison, the Superintendent opens the prison door to Lomba; he is glad to see the rays of light and hopes for good fortune. Contrary to Lomba’s hopes, the Superintendent has come with a piece of news:
‘These. Are the. Your papers. I read. All. I read your file again. Also. You are journalist. This is your second year. Here. Awaiting trial. For organising violence. Demonstration against. Anti-government demonstration against the military legal government.’ (p18)
The narrative is not without the challenges faced by writers in a country besieged with political instability. To succeed as a writer, one of the characters proposes the way forward:
‘You really must try and get arrested – that’s the quickest way to make it as a poet. You’ll have no problem with visas after that, you might even get an international award.’ (p166)
Habila’s Waiting for an Angel is an impressive and compulsory read. His narrative is completely poetic. Waiting for an Angel won the 2003 Commonwealth Writer’s Prize in the African Region. One of the stories also won the Caine Prize in 2001.
Note: Requested for review from Cassava Republic Press.