Book Review: Helon Habila’s “Waiting For A Angel”, A Tragedy Of A Nation.
Helon Habila’s “Waiting for an Angel” has given us reason to reflect on oppression, tyranny and their implication on the lives of ordinary people. People who are curiously looking for their purpose. This narration mirrors the reality and experiences of people who are fortunate and unfortunate to experience the brutality of the government during the Military era.
The narration brings to fore the emotion-provoking experience of a young Journalist, Lamba, whose live was halted on so many occasions as a result of the paranoiac tendency of the government.
The writer gave us different perspectives and shade of oppression. With different narration, Habila, resurrected the experience of Nigerian society during the military regime. The instances of political arrest and imprisonment, endless tales of repression, poverty, brutality, bad government and courage. Nigeria in time past has had its fair share problematic leadership.
The novel started with Lamba experience in Prison. He had ended up there because he decided to practice his craft, Journalism. Prison didn’t just hold him captive, it also laid claim to his ability to use words as instruments of change, only to be used to keep his sanity only when the prison warders are not watching. In his word, “here in prison loss of self is often expressed as anger. Anger is the baffled prisoner’s attempt to re-crystallized his slowly dissolving self”.
To avoid losing his mind in the inner hell of the prison – solitary confinement, he had to give in to the request of the prison superintendent to write poems for his lover. This he used as an instrument to plead his cause.
The award-winning author’s narration brought back, not only memories but also feeling of oppression and resignation to one’s fate. This is evident in the disposition of the character to the happenings around them. Yes, they made efforts to change their lot under a very intimidating terrain, but they also were ready to accept the most unfortunate fate. Some of them fought for change, but they barely believe that they will live to see the change happen.
“Did the gladiators’ voices quaver as they chant their death-distaining salute to the emperor: ‘Hail Caeser, we who are about to die salute thee’”
After Lomba and his friend visited a fortune-teller who predicted their doom, They both accepted their fate and in fact, work to bring it fruition. Lomba’s boss, James, also accepted his fate. All he saw was the end – there was no escaping the misery chasing after him – even though he could create a new beginning at this undesirable.
Lomba lost himself in his fight against a government out to subjugate its people. Lomba was like every other writer who just wants to use his pen to entertain and create memories. Oppression made him lose the person he thought he was. His desire to write a novel died prematurely, only for his to develop an appetite that pitched him against the government. At age 25, while still a free man, he felt really lost until he “decided to get a life”.
Lomba lost his best friend, Bola, to the fight against a bad government. Bola was not lost to the experience of losing almost all his family members to a ghastly motor accident. Lomba and Joshua also lost the woman that he loved, The Prison’s superintendent love for his woman led him to make a special exception for Lomba in a bid to get love poems from Lomba. Lomba love for Alice gave new lighting to the stage of his life, he was ready to rekindle this love after he lost her the first time.
Even though Hagar love for Joshua would not dissuade him from leading a protest in Poverty Street, her love gave meaning to his struggle against the government. Deep down his love for her was the reason he had no courage to confront his readiness to go on a suicide mission. Aunty Racheal’s love and dedication to her late husband gave us an insight as to how love can make a person strive even in a repressed society.
Poverty Street is a macrocosm of the deprived Nigerian society, full of lack and without basic amenities for existence. The street is full of dreamers, people who wanted a better life than what they are been offered. People who were ready to claim the change they desired. It, however, turns out to be a mirage for people. Their dreams were tools their battered mind employ to retain their sanity.
Poverty Street lacks basic social amenities, but it is not deprived. It is not deprived of courageous, strong, brilliant, tenacious and ambition folks. The street lost them to the struggle for a better Poverty street. Lomba leaves the street for a job at The Dial, even when he attempted to come back, he became lost to government captivity. The Street lost folks like Joshua, Mao, Muda and even Hagar. It is, for this reason, aunty Racheal warned to Kela: “Never ever show them you are brilliant. They’ll kill you. Don’t you know that lightening only strikes the tallest tree”
“Waiting for an Angel” a winner of the 2001 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, gave us a lot to ponder about. It invoked our sense of humanity. Our empathy for characters who are being oppressed by an unseen, almost faceless force. The narration makes us forget that we are all victims of a failed government. Nigeria, for many, has always being a poverty street, deprived in every way imagined. The reality of the novel written almost two decades back resonant to our situation today.
“Waiting for an Angel” captured the attention of its reader, attention even the reader did not regret given away. It is a book born out of the hollow of a fresh scar.