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Helon Habila was born in Nigeria in 1967. He won the Caine Prize for African Writing 2001 for the opening section of his first book, Waiting for an Angel, which then went on to win the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best First Book, Africa Region, in 2003. He was previously Writer-in-Residence at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. He now teaches creative writing at the George Mason University, in Virginia. He divides his time between America and Nigeria.
In his second work (after Waiting for an Angel), Habila chronicles Nigeria's recent history as witnessed by a single family living in the village of Keti. Twins Mamo and LaMamo grow up in a motherless home with a domineering father and a wonderful aunt. Both boys dream of leaving the village someday. Mamo runs off as a teenager and becomes a soldier, meets the woman of his dreams, and moves to Liberia. LaMamo, a gifted writer afflicted with sickle cell anemia as a child, becomes a teacher and then secretary to the Mai (local political leader), whose biography he is asked to pen. Initially, he plans to use Plutarch's Parallel Lives as a model, but political events cause him to change the book's structure and make it a history of intertwining lives. This flawlessly written tale of life and love transports readers to the hot, dusty village of Keti and into the lives of the Lamang family. Habila's writing is powerful, gripping, and poetic without becoming sentimental. Habila is a fantastic author with a brilliant future; highly recommended for both public and academic libraries.-Lisa Rohrbaugh, East Palestine Memorial P.L., OH Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
In the late 1970s, twin brothers LaMamo and Mamo Lamang dream of leaving their Nigerian village to find fame and fortune. When they're 16, LaMamo runs away and joins various rebel factions fighting in West Africa, while his sickly brother, Mamo, stays behind with their belligerent father (their mother died in childbirth) and becomes a brilliant student. LaMamo's occasional letters let Mamo live vicariously but, more importantly, lets Habila (Waiting for an Angel) reinforce his work's central message-that the biographies of ordinary individuals provide the real stuff of history. As Mamo becomes the history teacher at a local school, LaMamo actually lives history, meeting Charles Taylor and witnessing the anarchic chaos of West Africa in the 1980s and '90s. Mamo embarks on a career as a chronicler of "biographical history" (modeled on Plutarch's Parallel Lives), beginning with a history of his village and his culture. Like his wayward brother, Mamo witnesses events that force him to examine his conscience. Habila fleshes out the novel with memorable secondary characters-a thuggish cousin, a damaged idealist love interest, an especially Machiavellian bureaucrat. The fresh, brilliant result contrasts cultural traditions with contemporary bureaucracy and reimagines a country through the ordinary and extraordinary experiences of its citizens. (Feb.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.