Waiting for an Angel by Helon Habila

Waiting for an Angel

Year of Publication: 2002

Genre: Fiction

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.


14 Responses to Waiting for an Angel by Helon Habila

  1. zibilee says:

    I like the sound of this book, and think you wrote a beautiful review on it. It sounds like it is totally deserving of the prizes and accolades it has won!


  2. buriedinprint says:

    This was on my TBR list already (partly because interconnected short story collections are amongst my favourite things), so I particularly enjoyed reading your thoughts. Impressive and compulsory? I should bump it up the list…clearly!


  3. I’ve not as yet read any of Helon Habila’s books. Does his prescription on how to make it remind me of Soyinka? – it’s on the lighter side.


  4. amymckie says:

    I’m interested to know, you’ve read other works by Habila right? Which is your favorite?


    • Geosi says:

      In fact, I ‘ve read all three of his novels but have delayedin reviewing them. I think I like his latest novel, Oil on Water for the theme it explores which is very much a topical issue in Nigeria.


  5. A fine review, Geosi. Never read any of Habila’s works, though I’ve heard of him.


  6. Bruno Okere says:

    Hi I am presently writing my project research on his three books, He is good. I actually had the opportunity of serving in his native Kaltungo, so Measuring Time brings back vivid nostalgic pictures in my head, Habila is indeed a great writer!


    • Ekaette Akpanabiatu says:

      Bruno, i am currently considering writing my desertation on Habila’ works because i have heard a lot about his books. I dont know where to get the texts, can i get that information?


  7. joke says:

    We were asked to purchase the book in my school, at my first reading I was totally confused, but, when I read it all I knw that it is wow. The novel is fantastic.


  8. Adeolu onifade says:

    With all due respect, good books deserve honours but better books deserve prizes of the sands of time. We expect to see more from helon habila


  9. Paul peniel says:

    What is the author’s ideology in ”waitig for an Angel”


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