I have followed Helon Habila since his days at Hints Magazine and there was no way in hell I was going to miss an opportunity to read his new book, The Travellers. This novel. sigh It did things to me. I will never look at immigrants the same, that’s for sure.
Category: Contemporary Fiction
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton
Published: June 2019
Pages: 320 pages, Hardcover
Modern Europe is a melting pot of migrating souls: among them a Nigerian American couple on a prestigious arts fellowship, a transgender film student seeking the freedom of authenticity, a Libyan doctor who lost his wife and child in the waters of the Mediterranean, and a Somalian shopkeeper trying to save his young daughter from forced marriage. And, though the divide between the self-chosen exiles and those who are forced to leave home may feel solid, in reality, such boundaries are endlessly shifting and frighteningly soluble.
Moving from a Berlin nightclub to a Sicilian refugee camp to the London apartment of a Malawian poet, Helon Habila evokes a rich mosaic of migrant experiences. And through his characters’ interconnecting fates, he traces the extraordinary pilgrimages we all might make in pursuit of home.
Should You Bother Reading “The Travellers”
Absolutely! The best thing about this novel is how Habila brings to life the stories of people we only see on the news. I’m sure you can picture the images of people on boats, women and children who drowned, men who have become skin and bones. These are their stories. Their stories beyond those boats, beyond the refugee camps, their assimilation or lack of. In this book, you’d find intelligence, tragedy, poetry, love, intimacy and compassion.
I have read many books this year that has touched on this subject, Immigration. There was Patsy, Manchester Happened, The Inheritance of Loss, and currently, Elsewhere Home by Leila Aboulela (who will be at Ake Festival) And I think The Travellers has done a great job of pointing a light towards the immigrant experience. It gives voice to members of the African diaspora scattered across contemporary Europe.
I saw reviews that tagged the book “disjointed and unreadable” and I find that a little weird because the multiple tales were beautifully interwoven. You can’t rush through the sentences or you might miss a plot change. It forces you to be more engaged and isn’t that how you should be when reading this kind of stories? Engaged?
Ultimately, each and every one of us has a journey, and a story, says Habila in an interview with RFI. His experience of talking to Africans in Europe is that they want to be understood. “They feel unseen… anyone who listens to them is validation that they are alive and they are heard.”
In my own opinion, this is a perfect example of contemporary fiction and I highly recommend you pick this up soon if you haven’t already.
About The Author
Helon Habila is the author of three previous novels, including Oil on Water, which was shortlisted for the Orion Book Award and the PEN Open Book Award, and one book of nonfiction, The Chibok Girls. He studied literature at the University of Jos in Nigeria and creative writing at the University of East Anglia, UK.
He was named the first Chinua Achebe Fellow at Bard College. During his fellowship, he wrote and taught at Bard. He teaches creative writing at George Mason University and lives in Centreville, Virginia, with his wife and two children.
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